Veteran Approaches Goal To Help Disabled Vets

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(Host) Four years ago, a Korean War veteran from South Burlington began working to convince all cities and towns in Vermont to boost their property tax benefits for disabled veterans. Now, as VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, he’s almost completed that mission.

(Carapezza) Lou Lertola says he’s on a mission to win the hearts and minds of as many town governments as he can.

(Lertola) "I’ve found that if I can sit across the table from those people the veteran is going to benefit."

(Carapezza) He says the idea is simple – all cities and towns in Vermont should boost their property tax benefits for disabled vets.

Under Vermont law, the state and towns can give up to a $40,000 property tax exemption to veterans who are property owners and who are 50 percent or more disabled.

The exemption limit used to be just $20,000. That was before Lertola began his effort four years ago.

(Lertola) "I went down to the City Council here in South Burlington, and I just simply asked them, ‘Why not us?’ And they immediately made a motion to have it on the next ballot at Town Meeting. And I came home saying, ‘I just made a difference for 35 disabled veterans.’"

(Carapezza) And he wondered what he could do if he visited other select boards.

Since the retired National Guard member began driving from town to town in his blue Toyota Corolla, he says 109 towns have increased their property tax benefits for disabled vets.

He now keeps track of each town on a spread-sheet, cross-checking them with a yearly statement from the Tax Department that shows how many qualified vets there are in the state.

(Lertola) "The first year I had to struggle with it because there were towns I didn’t even know existed."

(Carapezza) So he broke it down by county. This month, 15 towns from ten counties voted to boost their property tax benefits, bringing him just 30 towns short of his goal.

Some towns have resisted increasing property tax benefits for disabled veterans. That’s because they have to pay the state for revenue that’s lost to the education fund because of the veteran’s benefit. But for the most part, Lertola says they’re on the level.

As he closes in on his goal, Lertola says he hasn’t lost sight of the mission: to give a little back to those who’ve served this country.

(Lertola) "I guess it is payback. What could I do to help these people? And all it was was to get in my car and go talk to their select boards."

(Carapezza) This summer, his fourth summer spent driving around the state and talking to select boards, Lertola says he hopes to cross off the last remaining towns from his list.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.

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