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Home : News : News
NEWS | April 5, 2013

Volunteers make filing less taxing

By Mike Joseph JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs

A word combination of "free" and "tax" seems an unlikely pair.

However, a dedicated volunteer group at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland makes them become a matching pair when it comes to offering free income tax assistance for military members and retirees.

Operated by 47 volunteers from various base organizations, the JBSA-Lackland Tax Center offers free tax return preparation and electronic return filing services as a military-based Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. The volunteers who staff the center donate time during the day, evenings and occasionally weekends to make the free service available.

The volunteer tax preparers have been trained, tested and certified in current tax law by the Internal Revenue Service. The center operates under IRS guidelines similar to community VITA programs; all returns filed by the center are considered self-prepared, and the tax payer assumes responsibility and liability for the return.

And from the time it opens in mid-January until the last return is filed in April, the basement of 37th Training Wing headquarters, where the center is located, becomes a beehive of activity.

"We've been booked through the end of tax season," said Capt. Trent Bradford, 802nd Mission Support Group/Judge Advocate, the center's officer in charge. "We're trying to squeeze in some appointments and asking our preparers if they can volunteer any more hours.

"Our preparers take this very seriously," Bradford said. "They care about the people. They're not just knocking out returns to get them done."

Capt. Valerie Gregory, 802nd MSG/JA, a volunteer tax preparer who also coordinates the daily operation, said the volunteers are doing more with less this year.

"We're operating with about 30 fewer volunteers than last year and we've actually increased our average output," Gregory said. "The average total number of returns verses total number of preparers was 19 last year and this year we're at 24. Our total numbers are down, but each preparer is doing more requests."

Whether it's preparing a 1040EZ or a more complicated 1040, neither is possible without the center's volunteers. Most average 10 hours a week while also working full-time jobs around base.

"I enjoy helping people," said Linda Vaillancourt, a tax preparer volunteer for the past 10 years. "It comes naturally because I've done my own taxes since I was 16. I enjoy the end result of something that makes people happy.

"I try not to make it so painful when they owe," she said. "I explain to them why they owe, and try to educate them about their own taxes."

An operations research analyst at the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center on Security Hill, Vaillancourt has made up for lost volunteer time. Work-related travel limited her volunteer opportunities the last four years, but not this tax season. She's working 40 hours a week and volunteering almost as many.

"I enjoy doing this and it's something I've missed," Vaillancourt said. "I was used to doing at least 100 returns a season and that dwindled down to maybe 30 last year. This is the first time in a long time I've been able to participate at this level."

The 342nd and 324th Training Squadrons also support the center. Each squadron supplies four transition flight Airmen for administrative duties in four-hour shifts Monday through Thursday.

"All of our volunteers are tremendous," said Gregory.

Through Tuesday, the center had filed 1,173 federal returns, generated $2.2 million in refunds, and saved customers an estimated $190,295 in preparation fees had they not used the Tax Center.

Those numbers and the center's convenience on base combine for repeat customers.

"It's been a wonderful experience. You know there are no gimmicks," said Dr. Tricia Hall, who used the center for the first time in 2012. "It's very convenient."

"All the young Airmen and Capt. Gregory bend over backwards to help you," Hall said. "I couldn't wait for my tax papers to come in this year so I could make my appointment.

Capt. Gregory told me what to bring and in 30 minutes I was done. You don't have the anxiety of waiting."

Utilizing the center's service this year paid off for Staff Sgt. Seth Kubli, 453rd Electronic Warfare Squadron.

Kubli used a base tax center at his first duty station in 2008, and then filed his own returns the past three years. He sensed something was wrong when he had to pay state income tax in 2010 and 2011.

"I came here and found out I'd been filing wrong," Kubli said. "My W-2s hadn't included the state tax I had paid and I didn't catch it. Had I known it was that easy to make mistakes, I definitely would have used the center before now."

"It's convenient and they're easy to work with," he added. "They went out of their way to get my money back from the last two years and a refund for this year."

Gregory said she's received multiple compliments from clients about the center and its volunteers.

"They appreciate somebody here on a volunteer basis," she said. "I haven't had anyone yet who's been displeased."