FORT LEE, Va. (Jan. 27, 2011) -- The Fort Lee Tax Assistance Center opened a few weeks ago, beginning its 25th consecutive season of offering tax preparation and consultation to the Fort Lee community.
Located in building 12011, 3312 A Avenue (next to the U.S. Army Garrison headquarters building), the TAC provides services free of charge to anyone qualified to receive legal assistance services from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. This group includes active duty military, their family members and retirees.
Capt. Carlos Ramirez-Vazquez, the operation’s officer in charge, said community members should be aware of changes to tax laws currently in effect.
"We have major changes to tax law that happened this year," he said. "Congress approved a variety of things late in the last session. This year in particular, a lot of military members and their families will need a lot of hand-holding through the process because there are things that are just new."
A change in the time to file itemized deductions is probably the biggest change. Patrons who file under this category cannot do so until Feb. 14, said Ramirez-Vazquez.
Energy tax credits for home improvements and credits for first-time homebuyers round out the changes to this year’s tax season.
Military members who use the TAC can expect to save anywhere from $50-$200 on a tax return, depending on the type of return and the number of schedules included, said Staff Sgt. Gary Martinez, TAC noncommissioned officer in charge.
"We provide an optional service," he said. "It’s the same as what community members will find off post. The only difference is that our service is free."
Those who prepare the tax returns include seven military personnel and 15 civilian volunteers, the mainstay of the operation.
"We’ve got volunteers who are here for their first year, and we’ve got volunteers who have been here for 10 years," said Ramirez-Vazquez. "We have one who’s been here for almost 20 years. They are the lifeblood of this center, and frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do my job without them."
Most of the civilian volunteers are retired military personnel who performed at professional tax preparation services in the past. All personnel working tax returns received training and certification through the federal government.
Ramirez-Vazquez, in his first year as OIC, said the tax preparation services are valuable to the community and the means for many of the volunteers to give back, including himself.
"I joined the Army JAG Corps to serve, to help Soldiers more than anything else," he said. "Having this as my first assignment right out of JAG school is a great experience. There’s nothing better than helping."
Ramirez-Vazquez said the importance of his position hit home about two weeks ago.
"I had a Marine who had a pretty difficult tax situation," he said, "and he was really happy when he found out I not only saved him a bunch of money on his tax preparation fees but also that he was getting a significant refund back. You see the benefit. It’s really important for me to be able to help them out."
Last year, the TAC served 2,500 people from the Fort Lee community and saved them more than $40,000 in tax preparation fees. This year should be no different, said Ramirez-Vazquez.
"I expect the numbers to be about the same," he said. "It could be up; we had units downrange during tax season. Now they’re back."
Community members who intend to use the TAC should bring all required documents. (See Page 4) Ramirez-Vazquez said not bringing all the documents impacts service.
"It slows the center down," he said, "because the military member has to go back and get documents and that’s time that could’ve been used helping someone else. It’s important to have all the documents to complete the return."
Taxes are due on April 18, the last day of the TAC operation. Personnel who miss the deadline can still receive assistance. For more details, call (804) 734-5732.