February 5 is the proposed start date for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s (WRNMMC) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a service that assists service members and their families with preparing and filing their personal taxes, free of charge scheduled to run until the end of April.
“This year [the tax center] is going to the self help service,” said Ashby Dyke, legal assistance attorney at WRNMMC. “The way it works is a service member comes in [to the Jag Office located in Building 1 on the seventh floor] where we will have computers and VITA tax helpers there and what happens is the service member will get on the website and do their tax returns with the VITA tax people there to assist them with any questions that they may have on how to do it or any issues that they have.”
In order for the program to be a success it is important to train volunteers to be qualified tax preparers.
“Anybody that wants to be a volunteer can apply and they do not need any prior tax handling experience,” said Dyke. “We give them training, because to be a VITA volunteer you have to pass an exam and then you get a certificate saying that you’re a certified VITA trainer. The way you get that training is through an online course, but it does take a long time and you’re probably looking at a week to do it.”
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Isaac Francois, a VITA volunteer, said there are some websites that let you file your taxes for free, but getting the assistance from a VITA tax agent can help avoid some of the headaches of filing a return on your own.
“I think the VITA program is outstanding and that every service member should take advantage of it,” said Francois. “One thing I want to emphasize is that VITA is an IRS (Internal Revenue Service) program, so we do everything exactly how it is supposed to be done, and avoid the headaches that could follow a shady tax filling.”
The VITA program is staffed with service members, contractors and civilians who care and have a desire to produce complete and efficient returns for service members and their families.
“This is actually my second time volunteering as a VITA tax agent, but I’ve been doing my own taxes since 2006 and I’ve always done a good job so I decided to help others get their returns done,” said Francois. “My first year as a VITA tax agent was while stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was a very exciting experience, and I loved it when a service member walked out of the office happy.
“As a VITA tax preparer, one must be certified to the appropriate level in order to prepare taxes,” he added. “As of now, I’m certified all the way up to the advanced and military level, so I can pretty much prepare and file for anybody who’s within the VITA scope. I’ll mainly be conducting interviews, collecting required documents, preparing and filing taxes, and I hope to put a smile on every client’s face.”
Individuals interested in becoming a VITA volunteer can contact Dyke at 301-319-7827 or Deborah Clark-Burnside at 301-319-7828.