Tax center helps deployed service members file income taxes
Story and photo by Spc. Michael Camacho
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The Joint Base Balad Volunteer Income Tax Assistance center opened Feb. 24 at JBB, Iraq, to aid deployed service members file their taxes while overseas.
The VITA center held tax assistance classes in January to prepare volunteers to assist fellow service members with filing, said Sherry Bowes, the law office superintendent for JBB with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.
Though deployed service member are given a 180-day extension starting the day they leave a combat zone, said Bowes, a Tampa, Fla., native, the VITA center offers the chance to get it done overseas during tax season, in order to receive financial benefits.
Bowes said there has been a large response from the JBB community since the center has been in operation. VITA focuses on assisting enlisted service members equivalent to the rank of Army staff sergeant and below, and officers equivalent to the rank of Army captain and below.
"If they have an income of $40,000 or less we can assist them," she said. "The program is geared toward those with lower incomes and junior-ranking (service members)."
The tax center provides an array of services and options tailored to service members' personal situations, said Bowes.
"They can file a joint return over here, single, head of household, whatever their case may be, if they have education expenses, if they purchased a new vehicle this year or purchased a home," she said.
Service members can contact the tax center via email to schedule appointments for tax assistance, said Bowes.
"Come over and meet with one of our volunteer preparers," she said. "They will assess your situation and prepare your taxes for you."
The center uses an Internet-based program that walks the volunteers through the process, said Bowes. They input the service member's wages and personal information to properly assess their tax filing.
Personal information is kept confidential and secure from identify theft, said Bowes.
"Only the preparers and the site coordinator … are authorized to see their returns," she said. "I have no worries or fears that personal information would be compromised."
The Internal Revenue Service will receive the information and complete the tax return process. Service members can expect to see their refunds in their direct-deposit accounts within seven to ten days, said Bowes.
On top of redeployment and reintegration, making time to file taxes is just one more step in the process of getting settled back home, said Pfc. Mark Ross, a reverse osmosis water purification unit operator with the 102nd Quartermaster Company, 80th Ordnance Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
Ross, a Hastings, Neb., native, said getting his taxes done while deployed gives him one less thing to deal with upon returning home later this year.
"It's quick, simple and I don't have to worry about the hassle," he said.
Service members wanting more information can contact the VITA center at 332AEW.TaxCenter@blab.afcent.af.mil.
Staff Sgt. Myreen Castaneda, a laboratory technician with the Medical Support Squadron, 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and a San Diego, Calif., native, looks on as Tech. Sgt. Joseph Derr, a volunteer tax assistant, reviews her tax paperwork at the Joint Base Balad Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Center March 3 at JBB, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Camacho)