NewsProblem Solvers


EGR veteran pushes for changes to state's disabled veterans property tax exemption

Posted at 10:59 PM, Feb 27, 2023

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jeff Wilcox takes pride in his military service. 

“As a veteran, I like to look out for my buddies,” said Wilcox. “I look at [this issue] and say, ‘If I’m having this problem, they’re [probably] having the same problem.’” 

Wilcox was an artillery gunner with the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He helped Special Forces with fire support. Mementos of his time overseas fill his East Grand Rapids home. 

However, the combat he experienced took a toll on his body. 

“To this juncture, [I’ve had] 22 knee surgeries,” said Wilcox. 

In 2015, Wilcox was facing another double knee replacement, so he decided to file a disability claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to cover the cost. Until then, they paid for his surgeries through his wife’s insurance. 

“I was at the point where it's like, ‘Wait a minute, at some point, they [the VA] need to kind of belly up to the bar and take some responsibility,’” said Wilcox.

Disability claims open up other financial supports and benefits too.

So, when the VA finally approved Wilcox’s case last summer and backdated the compensation to 2015, he applied for an exemption which cancels property taxes for disabled veterans in Michigan.

“The amount would be north of $40,000,” said Wilcox.

EGR veteran pushes for changes to state's disabled veterans property tax exemption

The East Grand Rapids Assessor’s Office partially denied his application though.

According to state law, disabled, honorable discharged veterans may be exempt from property taxes if they annually file an affidavit and provide documentation of their disability from the VA.

Wilcox never did that while officials were processing his claim.

“I had no clue that I was going to meet the requirements,” Wilcox told the FOX 17 Problem Solvers. “I knew I was appealing it to meet it, but I couldn’t, legally [say that]. I look at it from a standpoint, from a legal document, [that] there's no way I could put my name on here and sign and say I certify and meet this requirement.”

EGR veteran pushes for changes to state's disabled veterans property tax exemption 2

John McFarland, a trusts and estates attorney at Miller Johnson, says with no proper documentation he would not advise a client to turn in that affidavit either.

“Without discussing the particulars of any case, it is a bit of a challenge for veterans, because you need that letter to accompany that affidavit, which says you're 100% disabled,” said Wilcox.

Assessors offices can grant an exemption for the current year and the preceding year if there’s a qualifying error, which includes a slow response from the VA, but veterans still need to complete affidavits those instances too.

“If this particular veteran or any veteran is deemed to be disabled, going back many, many years, it is unfortunate, because from the policy standpoint of a law, you think they should be granted that exemption, but statutorily at the state level in Michigan, you have the current year and the immediately preceding year,” said McFarland.

The East Grand Rapids Assessor’s Office and the Michigan Department of Treasury declined interview requests to discuss the issue.

Wilcox was granted an exemption for 2022 and plans to fill out the affidavit for future years so he can continue to qualify.

Moving forward, he hopes state lawmakers consider making a change to the law.

“To me, it's a simple legislation thing that says, ‘Hey, if the VA, aka the government, federal government, goes back to x, then we go back to x’ and make it just that simple, so you don't have to do all this,” said Wilcox.

He says he a few other veterans experiencing this issue and thinks there could be more.

“Having lived here all these years, it’s a quite, a quite a healthy chunk of money to go back seven years. I understand [the exemption], but at the same token it's through no fault of my own that it took seven years.”