AS TAXPAYERS SEARCH FOR ALL ALLOWABLE DEDUCTIONS THIS MONTH, CIVILIANS WON'T QUALIFY FOR THE TAX BREAKS GIVEN TO ACTIVE MILITARY PERSONNEL. BUT AS KY PLASKON REPORTS, SOME MILITARY ARE FINDING THAT THOSE TAX BREAKS DON'T GO AS FAR AS THEY'D HOPED.
PLASKON: When on a mission, or what's called deployment taxes are deferred for soldiers, marines and sailors. When they get back they file taxes like anyone else with a few exceptions.
SOUND: VITA office
PLASKON: Some go to special offices set up by the IRS like this one at Nellis. They are specifically designated for low in-come families that make less than 35,000 a year and are run by military volunteers. IRS Tax Specialist Enn Lou trains the volunteers with a 200-plus page manual of IRS tax law.
LOU: Yes they have to pass the test.
HYRES: It was a lot of home work and we have basically three days to take it.
PLASKON: Technical Sergeant Karyne Hyres, Non Commissioned officer in Charge explains why they volunteer for it.
HYRES: Just because we are all here to help each other. We are a teamwork based organization and that is what we do.
PLASKON: In the past two months the volunteers at Nellis have helped more than 12-hundered in the service file taxes at the base. The IRS likes to take some credit too. It offers free training to the volunteers and free software to file the taxes.
MULLET: We often call ourselves the kinder gentler side of the IRS.
PLASKON: Vince Mullet is Senior Tax Specialist with the IRS. He says the IRS does it because it wants low-income military to know what their benefits are.
MULLET: There are a lot of things, benefits that are not well known. One is the excise tax on telephone bills. Spend a lot of money where they make calls. A lot of times they run up large bills on calls.
PLASKON: He says if the call originates from a federally recognized combat zone like Iraq the federal taxes on that call are waived and the person can apply for a rebate. In fact, unlike regular deployment, in combat zones all federal income taxes are waived.
MULLET: And so we are seeing now that some members are getting fairly substantial refunds now we have one case here where one individual walked away with a 9-thousand dollar check.
PLASKON: While, giant tax refunds are nice, some service members would still like to deduct additional costs of personal safety. The congressional budget office estimates that more than 30-thousand military personnel have purchased their own body armor at a cost of 16 million dollars since 2001.
RESTA: Yeah, I bought my own body armor. It was about 1,500 dollars.
PLASKON: Patrick Resta has pictures of how soldiers use these vests to armor the doors of their Hum-V's in Iraq. He took out a loan to pay for his vest. Since teachers are reimbursed on their taxes for work supplies, why not soldiers Resta says. Congress agreed, at least on paper, passing the Ronald Reagan National Defense Authorization Act in October. But unlike teachers who get their refunds from the IRS, congress left the task of reimbursement and funds to do it with the Pentagon. The bill says that by last month the Pentagon should have a plan and guidelines for reimbursement. The Pentagon's Colonel Gary Keck says the extent of it's guidelines were to simply issue a letter to each individual service about the law.
KECK: Enact policy that is fair and equitable in accordance with this law.
PLASKON: He has no idea if policies are in place for reimbursement and deferred to the individual services. The Army's Spokesperson Martha Rudd hadn't heard of it and said she'd check into it.
RUDD: Ummm, I don't really know.
PLASKON: Resta didn't know it's the military that's is supposed to offer refunds. He thought it was the IRS and wishes it were.
RESTA: The thought of me applying to get that money back could take a year minimum. It is almost not worth the hassle, if they can't even deliver my pay, I don't think they will be able to handle a sophisticated matter like that.
PLASKON: Personnel like Resta, stuck with their body armor, are turning to Army Surplus stores to get back some of the money they invested in their personal safety.
SOUND: Army Surplus
PLASKON: A used body armor vest is the most expensive item in Hans Army Surplus on Lake Mead Boulevard. It was brought in by a marine who sold it to the shop for a quarter of what it's worth.
HANS: It has different features that you can use, by itself it will stop small fragmentations.
PLASKON: Employee Henry Florez was a marine. He shows off the vest, knocking on the expensive ceramic bullet stopping plates. It has a sign on it, the original price was 15-hundres dollars but the sales price is half. He says soldiers who are buying themselves vests to do the dirty job of war should get some kind of refund.
FLOREZ: Sometimes they have to resort to buying their own gear, so they have to resort to buying their own stuff. Some time it has to come out of their pocket. Its difficult to say that America doesn't have a big enough of a budget.
PLASKON: Demand is so high that a black market has even grown around these vests. This week a marine in Camp Pendleton California was convicted of stealing a hundred of these vests from the military. Some ended up in China. Another marine yet to be convicted is accused of similarly stealing 88-thousand dollars worth of these vests and selling them at half price.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR