Soldiers march in a socially-distanced formation during the opening of the 2021 tax center at Fort Bliss, Texas, Jan. 20, 2021. Twenty-six Soldiers have temporarily been assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and the tax center for more than 13 weeks of training and tax preparation service for the Fort Bliss military community. (Digital image extracted from video footage)
Soldiers helping Soldiers: Bliss Tax Center opens, offers free tax prep
By David Poe, USAG Public Affairs Office
The installation Office of the Staff Judge Advocate formally opened their 2021 tax center during a short ceremony at Fort Bliss, Texas, Jan. 20, 2021.
The facility, run by the OSJA and manned by Bliss-based Soldiers from a variety of mission backgrounds, provides active-duty Soldiers and families, as well as retirees and their families, and reservists on active duty for more than 30 days, income tax return preparation help free-of-charge. In a coronavirus-hampered 2020, the center saved the Fort Bliss community almost a million dollars worth of estimated commercial tax filing fees.
Located at 2910 Cassidy Road on west Fort Bliss, next to the Stout Physical Fitness Center track, the center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Days of No Scheduled Activity (DONSA) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 915-568-1040 or visiting their Facebook page at @fortblisstaxcenter.
Customers visiting the 2021 center will see some changes to minimize coronavirus-related risk.
On arrival at the tax center, customers will match their parking space numbers to tax preparers, who will meet them in the parking lot for a health screening and paperwork intake. After everything is finished curbside, once entering the building, customers will sit at desks that match their numbered parking spaces. There they’ll work with their Soldier-preparers through installed plexiglass. There will be no walk-ins -- there’s no waiting room.
The 26-Soldier tax center team, which will include seven civilian volunteers this year, has trained for eight weeks learning the 2020 Tax code with help from the IRS, including direct support from the agency’s El Paso office.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is an IRS initiative intended to train and certify volunteer tax preparers at no charge, so that they can better serve their communities during tax season.
The mission of the Fort Bliss OSJA is to offer Army leadership legal counsel and support, while also offering legal advice and assistance, such as running the tax center.
Capt. John Monroe, this year’s tax center officer-in-charge, said despite the challenges involved in standing up the tax center in any year–never mind a year where the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all facets of public life–he’s optimistic about the 2021 version of the annual tax center program.
“Tax Law on and tax subject matter are not easily taught over Zoom,” he said of their eight weeks of training. “We had to divide [the preparers] into groups, keep them socially-distanced; and that kind of stretched out the process … so it was kind of playing on ‘hard mode’ if you will, but we still rose to the challenge.”
He said regardless of his team’s various military backgrounds, Soldiers make good tax preparers.
“They know what it’s like to do a PCS move and have to pay out-of-pocket for something,” he said “They have a special connection to certain issues that you’d only see on a military base that make them better prepared to serve the military community.
“Soldiers are used to showing up where they need to be, when they need to be, and how they need to be,” Monroe said of the 2021 tax center team. “They’re flexible–every Soldier here is trained to be trained. They know how to learn things and these Soldiers have shown that.”
For an FAQ on the Fort Bliss Tax Center, check out the graphic that accompanies this story or visit https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6501487/soldiers-helping-soldiers-bliss-tax-center-opens-offers-free-tax-prep.
For more information on the program, visit https://home.army.mil/bliss/index.php/my-fort/all-services/staff-judge-advocate/fort-bliss-tax-center.