A Camas man who served with the United States Navy in Iraq is on a new mission — to help other veterans with service-related disabilities get some help on their state income taxes if they live or work in Oregon.
“I’m passionate about this cause,” Thomas Brandt says. “My goal is to get legislation passed in Oregon and then take it nationwide.”
Brandt, 39, moved to Camas in 2016 because he and his wife, Sandra, loved the idea of raising their family, which includes the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Kayley, and Sandra’s 20-year-old son, Marcus, in a city known for its schools, outdoor recreational opportunities and frequent community events.
Brandt, who is considered by the Veterans Administration to be 90 percent service-connected disabled from his time in the military, landed a job in Hillsboro soon after the couple moved to Camas. The daily commute is tough, but Brandt says finding work in Clark County wasn’t easy and he likes being able to work as long as he can.
What he doesn’t appreciate, however, is the fact that, although he lives in Washington state, nearly 10 percent of his income goes to Oregon income taxes.
Being a disabled veteran makes what he sees as an issue of taxation without representation sting even more, Brandt says: “Why should we still be paying state income taxes when, at any point, our health could deteriorate so badly we might not be able to work and would have to rely on (the government) for help?”
In February, Brandt started a petition on Change.org to help shed light on the issue.
The petition, which has received support from 120 people in less than four weeks, advocates for Oregon legislators to create a policy exempting veteran with a 50 percent or greater service-related disability from paying state income taxes if they work in the state of Oregon.
Recently, Brandt sent notice of petition, along with a list of more than 100 signatures from supporters all over the country, to the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and U.S. senators and representatives from Oregon and Washington, including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, and Sens. Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
He recently heard from the Rey Reynolds’ campaign manager, who said Reynolds, a Vancouver Police Department veteran who is running to unseat Washington State Representative Annette Cleveland in the 49th District, would want to look at the petition and “send a response after he’s had a chance to see it and make an informed decision.”
Brandt has not yet heard back from other legislators or officials, but said he is still in the early stages of his quest to change the way service-related disabled veterans are taxed by states like Oregon.
“My hope is that this will get a conversation started in Washington, too, and that this will go nationwide,” Brandt says.
Several states already offer tax-exemption programs to help disabled veterans, but few if any have programs to help working disabled veterans reduce their state income tax burden.
In Oregon, for instance, veterans certified as having disabilities of 40 percent or more can receive property tax exemptions. Oregon also allows disabled veterans who are receiving federal Social Security disability benefits to “borrow” from the state to pay property taxes to the county.
Most states, including Oregon and Washington, do not require veterans to pay taxes on their retirement income and no state taxes disability payments from the Veterans Administration or Social Security Administration.
Brandt says he has heard support from members of veterans groups in Hillsboro and Tualatin, Oregon, and that he plans to reach out to more veterans groups in the coming months.
On his petition, which can be found at change.org under “No Oregon state income taxes for VA-disabled veterans,” Brandt encourages others to support his mission, writing: “Please sign my moral petition, and show veterans in the state of Oregon you care. It costs nothing to sign and let our state legislators know how we care about those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”