(El Paso, Texas, Feb.1, 2018)
In 2017, the Fort Bliss Tax Center saved filers an estimated $1.2 million in tax preparation fees. The Fort Bliss Office of the Staff Judge Advocate is looking for that same level of accomplishment as they opened the center for the 2018 filing season, Jan. 23.
More than 30 Soldier and civilian tax experts are now available to serve Team Bliss for most of their income tax needs, six days a week and free of charge.
With Soldiers on loan from the 1st Armored Division and the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, among others, the center is scheduled to be open through April 17.
Fort Bliss tax preparers are all Volunteer Income Tax Assistant program-qualified, which is an IRS requirement. Due to the sometimes-complex nature of military service and how it relates to taxes, volunteers are additionally required to get an advanced VITA certification before a military-specific VITA tax preparation certification. Comparable civilian tax preparers are only required to attain a basic VITA certification.
This year, all the senior noncommissioned officers at the center have previous deployment experience, which makes them especially valuable to the center in terms of recognizing particular, military-related deductions for their customers.
“They know the deployment tax issues firsthand,” said Capt. Jules Szanton, an OSJA Soldier-lawyer and this year’s tax center officer-in-charge. “Many of my other Soldiers have deployed as well and they can advise their fellow Soldiers on a lot of tax-related issues.”
In addition, Szanton added that his civilian preparers are either current or retired military spouses, which brings another layer of tax expertise for prospective military customers at the center.
Deployments aren’t the only tax scenarios exclusive to Soldiers and families. Tax center preparers also have experience in more common military situations, such as Permanent Changes of Station and military-related tax laws and benefits by state.
Already more than a week into the season, preparers want to remind prospective customers to bring Social Security cards for every person listed as an exemption on a return.
Szanton said while his team plans to handle quantity this tax season, it will be more than just dollars and cents for them.
“Working at the Fort Bliss Tax Center is a privilege because it allows us a chance to say thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country, whether they’re active duty Soldiers or retired,” he said. “We want to make sure that Soldiers can continue on in their careers without getting a message from the IRS saying their taxes are messed up. We want them to get the best return they can, as soon as they can possibly get it, without any preparation fees.”
Sgt. 1st Class Betsy Vargas, the tax center noncommissioned officer in charge and a 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Soldier, said while the tax center mission is based on community service, between the IRS certification training and bringing the knowledge to their neighbors, her Soldiers are making the best of an otherwise cumbersome topic like taxes and she’s confident moving forward.
“So far, they’ve been outstanding,” she said. “They’re staying positive and learning a lot. Their interaction with spouses and retirees has been a new experience for them. You can tell they’re enjoying what they’re doing.”
The tax center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays and training holidays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In most cases, the team will take walk-ins up until noon on a normal business day. Go to www.bliss.army.mil/staffjudgeadvocate/taxcenter for more details or call 568-1040 for more information or to make an appointment.