A bill that would give disabled veterans some property tax relief has been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly.
The Russell D. Rego USMC Act, named after a Hall County Marine veteran who unsuccessfully sought a tax break in Hall County, would allow qualified disabled veterans to file for a three-year retroactive reimbursement of the Disabled Veteran Homestead Tax Exemption.
The reimbursement would be on taxes paid before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ final determination of disability.
“(Disability) claims may take several years to be approved,” a State House press release states. “Due to this delay, as well as Georgia’s current filing requirements, veterans are unable to file for many other disability benefits, including the Disabled Veteran Homestead Tax Exemption.”
Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who is introducing the bill, said, “I believe that the delays veterans are experiencing in receiving medical treatments and disability benefits … are inexcusable.
“It is incumbent upon us, as state legislators, to provide assistance for our veterans.”
To qualify for the Disabled Veteran Homestead Tax Exemption, honorably discharged Georgia veterans must own the home and use it as a primary residence.
The exemption extends to surviving spouses who haven’t remarried and minor children as long as they remain in a home in the same county.
Rego said he is pleased with the bill and is “hoping for a positive outcome.”
His sister, Terri Underwood, who helped her brother in his tax battle, said she was excited the bill was finally introduced and honored that it was named after Rego.
“Hopefully, it will all go through without a hitch,” she said.
Rego’s struggles became a public matter in March when the Hall County Board of Commissioners got a request from Underwood for a refund in property taxes from 2013 to 2015.
He had applied for disability in 2008, with VA approval finally given in February 2016 retroactive to 2012.
However, Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock said there was no provision in state law allowing a tax refund for Rego — an opinion supported by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
The commission voted July 14 to deny the refund, with Blalock saying he had suggested that Rego and Underwood push the matter with Hall’s legislative delegation.
“Use me as an example of what I tried to do,” said Rego, who served from 1972 to 1993, in a September interview with The Times.
“He’s lucky in that he has another retirement,” Underwood said of her brother, who spent a nearly 20-year career with the U.S. Postal Service following the military.
“What about these veterans who don’t?” she said. “Maybe that property tax would be beneficial in ways we can’t understand.”