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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 38

Opinions of Counsel index

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

There is no statutorily prescribed minimum period of service requirement for purposes of the alternative veterans exemption. An applicant’s honorable discharge following active duty during wartime, albeit of limited duration, satisfies the statutory definition of veteran.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the alternative veterans exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 458-a). An applicant presented a copy of an honorable discharge, apparently issued for medical reasons, which he received in 1944 after he had served for about three and one-half months in the Army. Given the applicant’s minimal service time and his failure to receive an assignment to a military unit or to receive an expeditionary medal, the assessor questions his qualifications for the exemption.

The term “veteran” is defined (in part) in section 458-a(1)(e) of the RPTL as a person “who served in the active military, naval, or air service during a period of war . . . and who was discharged or released therefrom under honorable conditions. . . .” The defined periods of war includes World War II which, while not further defined in section 458-a(1)(a)), is defined for most federal veterans benefit purposes as commencing December 7, 1941 and concluding December 31, 1946 (38 USCA § 101(8)). {1}  Clearly, the applicant served during wartime within the meaning of section 458-a.

Some federal veterans benefit programs apparently require a minimal period of service (e.g., an “eligible veteran” is defined for purposes of post-Vietnam era veterans’ educational assistance as one who “served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days . . .” (38 USCA § 3202(1)(A))). However, there is no such limitation in the general federal definition of veteran (38 USCA § 101(2)) nor is there any minimum period of service prescribed in section 458-a of the RPTL.

The “active military, naval or air service” referred to in the above-quoted section 458-a(1)(a), while not defined in such section, is defined in federal law (38 USCA 101(24)) as including “active duty,” which is defined in section 101(21), in part, as “full-time duty in the Armed Forces, other than active duty for training.” Assuming, therefore, that the applicant’s honorable discharge followed active duty, albeit of limited duration, he would appear to satisfy the statutory definition of veteran.

March 19, 2001

{1}  We previously discussed the relationship between the Federal and State statutory definitions applicable to the alternative veterans exemption in 8 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 72.