NEW: Former prisoners of war seek more tax benefits on housing

By Rebecca May

JEFFERSON CITY – Along with 15 years of active duty and 15 years in the Missouri National Guard, John Clark, also endured six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

Clark is one of Missouri’s former POWs who argue that approval of Constitutional Amendment 2 on the November ballot would be a sign of appreciation for their sacrifices.

The proposal would provide a homestead property tax exemption for a former prisoner of war who has a total service-connected disability.

“It is time to recognize, especially the WWII, ex-prisoners of war because this group is the oldest and dying rapidly,” Clark said. “It is to honor them before they all pass away.”

Although there is no official count as to the number of veterans who would qualify for the exemption, various estimates place it at a mere handful.

The Missouri Veterans Commission estimated there are no more than 100 former prisoners of war living in Missouri who would qualify for the tax exemption.

In 2009, legislative staff estimated the proposal would cost local government about $187,000 per year, based on an estimate that as many as 200 former POWs would qualify.

Although the proposal cleared the House and Senate in 2009 without a single dissenting vote in either chamber, there is opposition.

Founder of the Prisoner of War Network, Mary Schantag said she thinks this bill is something that is too exclusive to be put through the legislative process.

“It seems strange to me that they are not including Medal of Honor recipients, which is even a higher recognition.” Schantag said. “It seems like a small number of people would benefit. It’s not going to do a whole lot either way.”

Schantag said the tax break would increase the number of POW impersonators.

However, Clark argues the Department of Veterans Administration makes receiving a POW status a difficult task by going through a series of programs and paperwork.

“When someone goes in to claim a benefits status they must show their records of when and where they were. My records show my DD-214 which is my discharge record of military service,” Clark said. “It’s an extensive evaluation and very few that claim the status are awarded it.”

Clark said the few that received the benefits are living right at the poverty line and benefits are limited. To qualify for the current benefits one must earn 30,000 dollars annually. Under the November ballot proposal, any former POW who has a full service-incurred disability and applies will receive exemption from property taxes.

An official with the Missouri Veterans Administration said it has wanted this legislation to pass through several years ago and is in full support.

“There were many many thousands of ex-prisoners of war in WWII and then quite a few in Korea,” said Benefits and Appeal Specialist, Bob Harvey. “In Vietnam there were less than 800 altogether and then these few conflicts we have had since that time a handful each time, not that large of numbers.”