LOOKING AHEAD AT VETERANS DAY:
THE MILITARY FAMILY TAX FAIRNESS ACT AND
THE LEGAL RIGHTS OF SERVICE MEMBERS
By Dennis W. Archer, President,
American Bar Association
The recent downing of a Chinook helicopter in Iraq, a tragedy in which 16 of our troops were killed and 20 were injured, is among the most recent illustrations of the tremendous sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make every day, in every moment, to secure peace and stability. As thousands more reservists, National Guard and other soldiers prepare to be deployed, we must not understate the value of their service, nor can we do anything less than extend our greatest support to them and to their families.
Veterans Day reminds us of the debt we owe to the men and women of our military for their selfless commitment, their fortitude, and their unwavering service to our country. In addition to the wreaths we will lay and the ceremonies we’ll attend memorializing those who have served, the Military Family Tax Fairness Act is an opportunity for our nation to repay a portion of our debt for their work.
The American Bar Association is pleased that after months of negotiation, this important legislation has finally been cleared for the president’s signature, which we look forward to with great satisfaction. Among its many provisions, the Act would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to, for example, allow service members to ignore time served on active duty away from home in service to their country toward years lived in their primary residence for the purpose of determining capital gains exemptions. For some time now, many of our bravest and most dedicated soldiers have been inadvertently penalized because their duties have prevented them from meeting the ownership and use requirements of the exemption, and presidential signature of the legislation will help military personnel meet those residency and use requirements.
For too long, this legislation languished in Congress, despite overwhelming support in its passage in both chambers. In recent days, however, Congress showed great bipartisan leadership in their initiative, working to reach common ground, and calling for the completion of this important work. We applaud their efforts, which resulted in unanimous passage in both chambers; and we are encouraged, because this important piece of legislation effectively moves Congress away from piecemeal lawmaking to providing more equitable measures to the military community, and is an excellent first step by our nation in protecting the interests of those who protect us.
But work remains. At the beginning of my presidential term, I called on the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel to convene a special Working Group on Protecting the Rights of Service Members. The ABA is taking the lead in analyzing and recommending protections that may be needed to ease the legal burdens our men and women in uniform bear as they are deployed around the globe to protect our freedom. We want to ensure that all service members and their families are protected from unequal treatment, discrimination and economic disadvantage.
This Veterans Day, the ABA will look ahead, to doing the work that will go a long way toward mitigating inconsistencies among state and federal benefit programs, so that members of the armed services may enjoy the full extent of the rights and protections that flow from their service to our nation.