The informal development of TnVet (or TVET as it was known until it became a legal nonprofit entity, 501(c)(19) in 2019) began with a series of small group discussions that the legislative needs of veterans were not being treated fairly or openly. The issue that generated these particular discussions was the 2015 Tennessee state legislative session reducing, for a purported budget shortfall issue, the property tax exemption of 100%, permanent and total disabled veterans from $175,000 to $100,000 with a further stipulation of a $60,000 total family income cap to be eligible. The exemption had started in the 1970s as a way to honor those who had suffered great disability issue due to their military service of our country. It was not a welfare or supplement type program.
At an October 2015 luncheon of the Ft Campbell Charter/MOAA, members Vivian Fivecoat (also a DAV member), Sherry Pickering (also chairman of the Montgomery County Veteran Coalition – these two had initially pondered the issue) were joined in discussion with Bill Summers (formerly Clarksville city councilman). The brain storming discussion ensued on how to reverse the cut to the tax exemption. While local state elected officials had fought the reduction, there has been a lack of legislative support elsewhere in the state. So, the issue was how to change the minds of those other legislators. The idea was a method was needed to communicate directly with those other state legislators. This small brainstorming group surmised that veterans from across the state needed to be involved so they could directly talk with their representatives. The question was how best to do it? The solution was to get veterans to the state Capitol to meet face-to-face with their legislators. Similar to what other state vocational and professional organizations do. These initial three people were soon joined by Don Bailey (American Legion) and Steve Singleton (MOAA/ National Sojourners) to form a working group. This initial group planned, organized and transmitted through emails to members of other veteran organizations what was being planned and why. It was 90 days later in February 3, 2016, that the first “Veterans Day On The Hill” happened at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, with approximately 125 veterans attending from across the state and various veteran organizations.
It was repeatedly stated by those who worked or often visited the state Capitol, that they had never seen so many veterans roaming the halls in their organizational and military hats, coats, pins, etc. The visual impact and the many discussions that took place had an immediate impact. The effort generated such a debate with legislators, about restoring property tax exemption that the legislative session had to be extended by a couple of days due to the debates. In the end, the income stipulation was removed in the 2016 legislative session, but restoring the full monetary exemption was not (The House was in favor, but not the Senate). So, veterans had won half the battle.
The group that planned the 2016 effort starting the second “Veterans Day On The Hill” for Feb 2017 to finish the legislative mission. With having a year to plan and gaining the acknowledgement and admiration of legislators and the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services with the effort, full restoration of the property tax exemption was achieved along with a couple of other veteran legislative issues.
The effort at the Capitol proved that consolidating the legislative efforts of veterans and their associated organizations could result in positive changes at the state level. With so much effort and time vested in the first two year by the planning group, it was determined that this should not be basically a “one and done issue” effort. Several meetings of veteran representatives from various organizations that had attended the “Veterans Day On The Hill” events in 2016 and 2017 were held. Legislative bills were generated and supported and approved by the state legislature each year.
On July 28, 2018, in Nashville, TN., the “Tennessee Veterans” organization was approved with basic operating procedures. While, the development of a board and executive committee took time and some initially funding had to be provided to pay for fees associated with filings/needs (which some board members loaned to the organization out of their pockets). Paperwork with the state to list “Tennessee Veterans” as a nonprofit corporation was submitted on October 29, 2019. On January 24, 2020, The IRS recognized “Tennessee Veterans” as a 501(c)(19) nonprofit.
Our work continues!