News: The eleventh hour
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – With only 21 days left in this year’s tax season, specially trained soldiers diligently prepare taxes for active duty service members and retirees in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., community.
The overall mission for the tax center is to promote quality of life and readiness by providing a no-cost income tax service.
During this tax season, 34 soldiers from various JBLM units operate tax centers on JBLM-Main and JBLM-McChord in compliance with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Each tax preparer was trained and certified by the Internal Revenue Service. They passed four tests, one of which is designed just for military-specific federal and state tax issues commonly encountered by members of the armed forces.
“I did it [filed taxes] myself last year,” Lt. Col. Robert Richards, director of technical services for Public Health Command Region West. “It’s just too complicated for me anymore.”
Richards stated that with the ever changing tax laws he turned to JBLM’s tax center for help.
Capt. Keaton Troy, legal assistance attorney and officer in charge of both tax centers, said he and his soldiers are equipped to prepare and electronically file taxes.
“I’ve got an awesome group of motivated guys who have gotten pretty skilled in an area that a lot of people don’t want to touch.” Troy said.
Troy stated that nearly 7,000 returns were processed so far this season, saving JBLM soldiers, their families and retirees more than $1 million in tax preparation fees.
For Staff Sgt. Jeff Gregory, cryptologic linguist, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, and his wife, the free service was their main motivation to have their taxes prepared on base this year.
“This is our first year at this tax office,” said Gregory. “Last year we paid a company $200.”
Although preparing taxes is not an official Army occupation, soldiers working at the tax center can apply the skills they learned here to civilian employment.
One of those soldiers is currently going through an Army medical evaluation board to determine whether he can continue military service. He said it is difficult to perform his duties as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, which is why he volunteered to prepare taxes.
“I feel like I’m a good asset to the team here,” said Spc. Anthony McGuire, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. “I like to educate soldiers here on JBLM and get them the largest possible refund.”
To avoid a penalty, the IRS filing deadline for individuals during the tax year 2012 is April 15, 2013.
Nearly 1,000 service members between the pay grades of E-1 to E-4 had their tax returns prepared for them while they were at work, through the use of a tax drop-off program adopted by JBLM this year.
“The drop-off program is restricted to lower enlisted service members who do not own rental property,” Troy said. “Because they are generally a little bit easier to complete and allows for a fast turnaround time.”
As of April 16, the staff will change its focus from filing 2012 taxes to preparing amendments, assisting with audits and filing back taxes for soldiers returning from deployment throughout the year.
Open yearround, the JBLM-Main tax office is located in building T-6069 41st Division Road. For additional information and to make an appointment, please call 253-967-1040 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with the first hour dedicated to retirees only and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The McChord Tax Center, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., located in building 100 Suite 3007, Col. Joe Jackson Blvd at 253-982-6857.