All veterans who were honorably discharged are eligible for a $3,000 tax benefit.
Not a day goes by that the Burlington County Department of Veterans Services isn’t flooded with about 25 calls inquiring about the new veteran income tax exemption.
In many cases, veterans have only a faint idea about how to apply or that they’re eligible for the $3,000 benefit, according to Walt Tafe, director of Veterans Services for the county.
“It’s amazing how many veterans have no idea what they’re entitled to,” Tafe said.
That’s why the office has teamed with Kate Gibbs, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, and County Clerk Tim Tyler to launch a public information campaign to educate veterans on the new exemption before they file New Jersey income tax forms for 2017.
New this year, the $3,000 benefit is available to all veterans who were honorably discharged, regardless of their income status or any other benefits they collect.
Among the steps they need to take is to fill out and return a veterans tax exemption submission form to the New Jersey Division of Taxation, along with documentation from the military, such as a certificate of release or a discharge from active duty (DD-214).
The submission form can be found on the department’s website. It and the certifying documents can be sent to the division by mail, fax or by a secure online upload feature on the website.
The exemption is intended to assist New Jersey’s approximately 400,000 veterans, including 42,000 in Burlington County. It was part of other tax reductions, including a small sales tax reduction, an enhanced retirement income exemption, and an increased earned income tax credit. Those reductions were intended to help make the state more tax-friendly, despite the 28-cent gas tax increase.
But the state has not taken steps to notify veterans by mail or other means, county officials said. So they decided to take action to spread the word locally.
“We want to make sure these folks get the money they deserve, and that they know how to do it,” Gibbs said. “It’s great we have these programs in place, but if people don’t know about it, they’re missing out on a benefit they’ve earned.”
Posters and informational flyers with step-by-step directions on how to claim the benefit are available at the county’s Administration Building, Human Services Building, Clerk’s Office, County Corner at the Moorestown Mall, and all branches of the Burlington County Library.
Also, Veterans Services is working to put up flyers at Veterans of Foreign Wars posts around the county.
Veterans Services has assisted hundreds of people who have dropped by to ask questions since mid-January, Tafe said. In the last two years, the office has helped local veterans and their families obtain nearly $28 million in benefits.
Tafe emphasized the importance of obtaining a certified DD-214 form, which is needed to identify military service for benefits, retirement, employment and membership in veterans organizations. He advised veterans to file their DD-214 with the county clerk to have a backup copy if they should ever lose it, and make it easily accessible to their families in the event of their death.
“The DD-214 is the most important paper a veteran gets. It’s their passport to their benefits,” Tafe said.
The county clerk can assist in preparing a free certified copy upon request.
The Division of Taxation is supposed to notify veterans when the department receives their DD-214 and tax exemption submission form, but it is behind on sending responses, Tafe said. If veterans don’t receive a response, they should attach the forms when they file their tax returns.
Aside from county efforts, 8th District lawmakers Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblymen Ryan Peters and Joe Howarth have advocated for the Treasury Department to notify veterans about the tax break. The district office made its own step-by-step instructions and planned to distribute information via email and social media.
With over 10 percent of the New Jersey’s population of veterans living in Burlington County, Gibbs said the county will do all it can to ensure the tax exemption is publicized.
“We know how badly New Jersey needs tax relief,” she said. “This is tax relief for people who served our country.”
For more information, visit state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/military/vetexemption.shtml or call 609-292-6400.