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 prisoners of war who argues that the approval of Constitutional Amendment 2 on Nov. 2 would be an appropriate 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."
There is no official count of veterans who would qualify for the exemption, but the number would appear to be relatively small. 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 governments about $187,000 per year based on an estimate that as many as 200 former prisoners of war would qualify.
Although the proposal cleared the House and Senate in 2009 without a dissenting vote in either chamber, opposition remains.
Mary Schantag, founder of the Prisoner of War Network, said she thinks the proposal is too exclusive.
"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 could also encourage people to lie about whether they are former prisoners of war.
Clark, however, said the Department of Veterans Administration makes receiving prisoner-of-war status a difficult task by requiring that applicants go 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 those who receive the limited benefits available now are living right at the poverty line. To qualify, former prisoners of war must earn no more than $30,000 per year.
Amendment 2 would extend the property tax exemption on homes to any former prisoner of war with a full service-connected disability who applies.
Bob Harvey, benefits and appeals specialist with the Missouri Veterans Administration, said the agency has been pushing the legislation for years.