GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — The saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t quite apply to Miriam Dugan.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him,” Dugan said, with tears in her eyes.
Nearly three decades after her husband Donald’s death, the Georgetown widow still gets emotional talking about him.
“The love that he gave me, it was so strong that I will always be in love with him, always and… you better cut [recording] because I’m going to cry,” Dugan said.
In 1996, Sgt. Donald Dugan was just months away from retiring from the U.S. Army when he was deployed one last time. He was killed in action in Croatia.
“That was the most horrible day,” Dugan recalled.
Heartbroken, Dugan never remarried and raised their two daughters alone in a Killeen home. Just a few years ago, she moved to Georgetown.
It was after that move that Dugan realized a benefit she relied on was in question. As the widow of someone killed while serving in the armed forces, Dugan is a Gold Star spouse and in the state of Texas, she’s entitled to 100% exemption from property taxes on her home.
But last year she got a tax bill stating she owed more than $5,500.
She said the Williamson County Tax Office told her, “that’s because I bought a more expensive house than the one that I used to have in Killeen. I have to pay the difference.”
Dugan thought that was a mistake, but it is correct. According to Texas law, if the spouse moves from the home where they first had the tax exemption, that exemption, based on the value of the house they’re leaving, goes with them.
So, if the new house is more expensive, the widow or widower has to pay taxes on the difference.
“I think it’s sad,” Tamra Sipes, president of the Gold Star Wives of America, said. “I think that the state should take a look at it and fix this.”
Sipes said each state decides what type of property tax exemptions, if any, are given to Gold Star spouses.
Florida is similar to Texas. If the spouse moves to a new home, only the tax exemption from the previous home is applied. Arkansas and Oklahoma offer 100% property tax exemption to Gold Star spouses even if they move to another home within those states. Washington state doesn’t offer Gold Star spouses property tax benefits unless they’re at least 62 years old and make no more than $40,000 a year.
KXAN investigator Mike Rush asked Sipes, “Are most states lacking at doing it well?”
“Yes, 100% they’re lacking. It really comes down to our voices being heard.” Sipes said. “We’re such a small voice that it’s really hard to get the attention of the lawmakers and the states.”
So, unless something changes, this exemption Dugan counts on only goes so far.
“It’s going to be a total joke for me to say, ‘Oh, I’m a Gold Star wife’ but I don’t have no benefits. I still have to pay,” Dugan said.
In Texas, if a Gold Star spouse gets remarried, he or she loses the property tax exemption all together.
KXAN investigator Mike Rush reached out to Texas state lawmakers on committees handling veterans affairs to see if this is an issue they could address. We will keep you updated on any changes in the works.