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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 120

Opinions of Counsel index

Alternative veterans exemption (eligibility) (qualifying service) - Real Property Tax Law, § 458-a:

Vietnam-era veterans who received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal may be entitled to the additional combat zone exemption. For the statutorily defined Lebanon, Grenada or Panama operations, only veterans who served in the combat zone may qualify for exemption. Any honorably discharged veteran serving during the Persian Gulf conflict is eligible for the basic alternative veterans exemption; receipt of the Southwest Asia Service Medal qualifies the veteran for the additional combat zone exemption.

We have received an inquiry concerning the alternative veterans exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 458-a). We have been asked whether the receipt of a medal, other than one of those listed in Volume 4 of the State Division of Equalization and Assessment’s New York State Assessor’s Manual, qualifies a veteran for the additional combat zone exemption granted to certain honorably discharged veterans (§ 458-a(2)(b)).

The alternative veterans exemption provides three levels of benefit to qualified veterans. Property owned by honorably discharged veterans (or certain of their relatives), who served during statutorily prescribed time periods, may receive a 15 percent exemption. {1}  An additional 10 percent exemption is awarded to veterans who served in a combat zone; and eligible veterans, who sustained service-connected disabilities, may receive additional exemptions equal to one-half of their disability ratings.

To be eligible for the additional 10 percent combat zone exemption, a veteran must have “served in a combat theatre or combat zone of operations, as documented by the award of a United States campaign ribbon or service medal . . .” (§ 458-a(2)(b)). Since the enactment of section 458-a (L.1984, c.525), we have generally relied on the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs for advice concerning qualifying ribbons and medals. For example, we have been advised by the Division of Veterans’ Affairs that the qualifying awards for World War II veterans are the European-African-Middle Eastern Ribbon, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon and the American Campaign Medal when awarded under certain conditions (see New York State Assessor’s Manual, Vol. 4, § 4.01, p. 9.29 (12/31/91)).

When we receive new advice from the Division of Veterans’ Affairs regarding qualifying medals, we incorporate that advice into supplements to the Assessor’s Manual. For instance, the aforementioned American Campaign Medal was not included in the original list of qualifying medals.

The Governor’s approval of chapter 270 of the Laws of 1993, which, in part, amended section 458-a to backdate the commencement date of the Vietnam War to December 22, 1961, caused us to ask the Counsel to Veterans’ Affairs for advice concerning qualifying medals other than the Vietnam Service Medal, which, to date, has been the only qualifying medal for that war. {2}  Veterans’ Affairs has now advised us that the receipt of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, coupled with proof that the veteran received that medal for service in Vietnam, should be deemed proof of service in a combat zone for purposes of the exemption. We have informed assessors accordingly.

The same request for advice also sought our opinion concerning veterans who served in Lebanon, Grenada, or Panama. For a person to qualify as a “veteran” for purposes of section 458-a, he or she must have served during one or more of the defined periods of war or received an expeditionary medal for service in one or more of these named military operations. In our opinion, receipt of an expeditionary medal for service in Lebanon, Grenada or Panama is proof of service in a combat zone. Thus, qualifying recipients are entitled to a 25 percent exemption. However, unlike in defined periods of war, where any honorably discharged veteran may qualify for the basic (15%) exemption, for Lebanon, Grenada and Panama, only medal recipients qualify for any exemption. Thus, there can be no 15 percent exemption recipients for service in Lebanon, Grenada or Panama. Such veterans should receive a 25 percent exemption or more if they have a service-connected disability rating (§ 458-a(2)(c)).

The specific inquiry we received concerned a veteran who served between January 8, 1989 and May 30, 1992. Since the veteran did not receive an expeditionary medal for service in Panama, that individual does not qualify for any exemption on that ground. However, since the Persian Gulf conflict has been defined as beginning on August 2, 1990, and no termination date has been set, a veteran receiving an honorable discharge for service after that date will qualify for the basic exemption. That is, the Persian Gulf conflict has been given the same status as other “periods of war” (e.g., Korea or Vietnam). To receive the additional 10 percent exemption for service in a combat zone, a Persian Gulf veteran must prove that he or she received the Southwest Asia Service Medal.

October 21, 1993

{1}  The percentages are subject to a maximum dollar amount.

{2}  Federal law defines the Vietnam era as beginning on August 5, 1964 (38 USCA § 101(29)), so veterans who served in but left Vietnam prior to that date could not qualify for the Vietnam Service Medal.