by Janice Francis-Smith
Larry Mitchell survived the Vietnam War, though his service to his country left him 100-percent disabled.
Now Mitchell has to battle with checkout clerks and store managers almost every time he tries to use the sales tax exemption he has been granted by the state.
"I had a young lady, a clerk, ask me, ‘How do I get one of these?" said Mitchell. "I said it’s simple. You spend 27 months and nine days in Vietnam, you get your butt shot off three times and you have to be on 28 medications every morning for the rest of your life. She said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I said then don’t worry about it."
Mitchell and other 100-percent disabled veterans continue to encounter problems when they present the card issued by the state showing they are exempt from paying sales tax on purchases of up to $25,000 per year. Sometimes the store clerk will be merely ignorant of the law. Some stores have their headquarters in another state, where the laws are different, and clerks may need to obtain corporate approval of all sales tax exemptions granted. But in a few cases, it appears jealousy is fueling some people’s reluctance to honor the tax exemption.
"I had one guy tell me it’s not fair," said Mitchell. "One lady said, ‘My husband is disabled, but he doesn’t get this.’ What she failed to mention is that he got disabled in a car accident leaving a bar at 2 in the morning. The ones who don’t want to take the card are not veterans. People don’t understand what we went through."
In many instances, when the problem is lack of education, the matter gets cleared up quickly. But veterans in the Durant area where Mitchell lives have learned how to deal with repeat offenders. If a group of veterans showing up to meet with store management doesn’t solve the problem, the store is reported to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
"Then it’s too late, baby," said Mitchell. "That’s a $500 fine."
For a few stores, even the fine is not enough to get them to acknowledge veterans’ tax exemption cards. So Mitchell contacted his state senator, Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant. Gumm filed Senate Bill 294, making it a misdemeanor to refuse the sales tax exemption to a veteran who presents his card at the cash register.
"It’s disrespectful to veterans," said Gumm.
Some stores seem intent on making it so difficult to obtain the tax exemption that veterans will just give up claiming the benefit, said Gumm. If the $500 fine is not effective, state government will have to make those stores take notice by making noncompliance a crime.
"It’s the least we can do for our veterans," said Gumm. "We can enforce this a few clerks at a time. It would be a lot easier on everybody if retailers would simply comply with the law