May is National Military Appreciation Month, and the Internal Revenue Service wants members of the military and their families to know about the many tax benefits available to them.
Each year, the IRS publishes Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide, a free booklet packed with valuable information and tips designed to help service members and their families take advantage of all tax benefits allowed by law. This year’s edition is posted on www.IRS.gov.
Available tax benefits include:
Combat pay is partly or fully tax-free.
Reservists whose reserve-related duties take them more than 100 miles from home can deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ, even if they don’t itemize their deductions.
Eligible unreimbursed moving expenses are deductible on Form 3903.
Low-and moderate-income service members often qualify for such family-friendly tax benefits as the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a special computation method is available for those who receive combat pay.
Low-and moderate-income service members who contribute to an IRA or 401(k)-type retirement plan, such as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, can often claim the saver’s credit, also known as the retirement savings contributions credit, on Form 8880.
Service members stationed abroad have extra time, until June 15, to file a federal income tax return. Those serving in a combat zone have even longer, typically until 180 days after they leave the combat zone.
Service members may qualify to delay payment of income tax due before or during their period of service. See Publication 3 for details including how to request relief.
Service members who prepare their own return qualify to electronically file their federal return for free using IRS Free File. In addition, the IRS partners with the military through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to provide free tax preparation to service members and their families at bases in the United States and around the world.
A character in John Steinbeck’s classic novel “East of Eden” had suffered unimaginable pain and loss in his life. He was asked how he could live with those memories. He said, “I forget by remembering.”
That concept is being applied to a small Sacramento area group of veterans of America’s wars. A writing workshop doubles as a support group to help each to offset the trauma of battle by giving them a way to confront the demons they continue to carry with them.
Rancho Cordova Library Branch Supervisor Jill Stockinger coordinates the writing program that is funded by a four-year state and federal grant. She said veterans returning from war are an “underserved population,” and those who still suffer the effects of war can benefit by writing. Therapeutic, of course, but the hope is that it will be enjoyable, as well. “Self-expression is a positive experience,” she said. “We encourage veterans to express themselves to help them adjust to civilian life.”
Seated around a table in a quiet room in the library, five veterans gathered to write of their experiences among others who will understand what they have gone through.
Local writer, poet, and CSUS and Sacramento City College English professor Bob Stanley is co-director of the group in the first of what will be four Wednesday evening sessions at the library. The remaining three sessions are: March 30th, April 20th, and May 18th. Veterans of all branches and all eras are welcome, even if they were not able to attend the first session.
“The main focus of the group will be to get words down on paper,” Bob Stanley said. Any subject, any form. No rules or pressure came with the exercise. Each was encouraged to express what they feel and put it in words.
Co-Director Indigo Moor is a poet, screenwriter, and author as well as a U.S. Navy veteran of Desert Storm. Moor read from the published works of several war veterans who had poured out their feelings as free verse poetry. One of those works was a poignant retelling of the poet’s visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Judging from the reaction of those present, the words were resonating with them as well.
Another author wrote obscurely of things he heard, saw, and felt on a night patrol in Vietnam, but which each of the veterans present easily interpreted as a soldier waiting for the enemy to come at him from the darkness. Not knowing was as damaging to the psyche as combat itself.
At one point Moor asked those present to close their eyes and envision that “one moment that defines the [war] experience” for them. He urged the men to use the sights and sounds of their experiences in the writing exercise, “use the senses that keep us interested,” he said. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of what happened, he asked that they call upon their feelings and condense them onto paper.
Some who attended are still burdened by what happened to them in their war. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Daniel Gomez served four tours in Vietnam. Gomez was wounded twice and continues to suffer the health effects of the injuries, exposure to Agent Orange defoliant, and malaria. When asked why he was attending the workshop, he said, “To figure out why the hell I’m still here.” His war may have ended four decades ago, but it is still as fresh in his mind as yesterday.
The five men who attended the gathering represented different branches of the service: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, as well as different wars: Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.
Carmichael resident Bob Pacholik is an author of some renown. He was a U.S. Army combat photographer in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. His book “Night Flares: Six Tales of the Vietnam War,” chronicles the war and honors the men and women who served in it.
Most of those present were there for the therapeutic value writing might offer. Some of the men said they hoped to continue to write beyond the program. Emmett Hawkins served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea. Among other subjects he is interested in religion and history.
For each of the veterans who took part in the Rancho Cordova writing workshop, the object was to reduce their experience down to its essence to help them to better understand what happened to them.
Poetry: a large idea, written small.
For additional information about the veterans writing project, check out www.saclibrary.org and click on “events.” Also, the library information line number is (916) 264-2920.
(BPT) - Most people can’t imagine being terrified by the sound of a fork falling and hitting the ground. They don’t understand how someone cannot sleep because the fear of recurring nightmares keeps them awake. They’ve never experienced anxiety that turns everyday tasks into impossible chores.
But for thousands of American veterans, these are just a few symptoms that can make their lives unbearable. And while millions are aware of the condition they suffer from - post-traumatic stress or PTS - few are able to grasp the severity of the condition, and medical science is a long way from understanding the neurological causes of PTS.
In the news, stories of PTS tend to focus on bureaucratic mishandling, ineffective medications that have severe side effects and the general tragedy of those who are afflicted. However, there is also a side of the story that has to do with hope, strength and love. While a single cure has not yet been discovered for PTS, there are many instances of veterans finding peace and a path to recovery through some non-conventional - and often controversial - means.
The greatest challenge for many who suffer from PTS is to rebuild relationships with other people. Many have found that a powerful way to lessen the anger and hypersensitivity that often prevents them from enjoying normal relationships is through caring for horses. Grooming, feeding, cleaning the pen and riding the animals helps those who suffer from PTS to return to the trusting and nurturing emotions they learned to suppress due to the stress of combat.
This ancient Chinese practice of pushing pins into specific points on a patient’s body has gained widespread acceptance for a variety of medical and psychological purposes. The idea behind the practice is to heal and restore balance between various systems of the body. Though there is no conclusive evidence that acupuncture can help in all situations, several studies and many veterans report long term benefits in recovering mental stability.
Bariatric oxygen treatment
This treatment involves a patient entering a pressurized oxygen chamber for about 90 minutes, during which time they can read, watch TV or even take a nap. The theory is by increasing the oxygen levels in the body’s tissues and red blood cells, it will speed the body's natural healing capabilities and repair neurological damage. Though the treatment is still experimental, many have claimed this treatment is a miracle, and several studies have confirmed its benefits. The Purple Heart Foundation has invested money to make this therapy more readily available to veterans.
Perhaps the most controversial therapy on the list, there is a fine line between PTS patients being treated with marijuana and abusing marijuana. Nonetheless, as veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, more tales of the benefits of medical marijuana began to emerge, leading many advocates in both state and federal governments to push for more research and availability.
Meditation comes in many different forms, but the idea is the same: to create a quiet space in your mind through focusing on something as simple as your breath. Achieving the deep level of relaxation allows many veterans to begin to sort out their traumatic experiences. By no means is it a cure, but results from countless veterans and studies show meditation to be an important part of the healing process.
Because PTS is such a complicated condition that arises from experiences that are unique to each veteran, there may be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cure. What this means is that each person needs to be treated as an individual, and have a range of treatment options available.
The Purple Heart Foundation is dedicated to doing just that. Through investing in research for therapies such as bariatric oxygen treatment, as well as supporting state-of-the-art programs like the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Fort Hood, the organization is helping veterans live a full and rich life in the country they fought for.
To learn more about how your donation to the Purple Heart Foundation can help veterans with PTS, visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org.
(BPT) - John Lentini carefully considered his career options after leaving the Navy. He decided to leverage the leadership skills fostered in the military by starting a business in Asheville, North Carolina, specializing in search-engine optimization.
“I had the infrastructure to do it, and there wasn’t a lot of competition,” says Lentini, owner of AshevilleSEO.org. “In Asheville, people like to support local things.”
Lentini’s example supports the findings in a recent list that named Asheville as the best place in the United States for veteran entrepreneurs.
Military transition experts with USAA and an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation called Hiring Our Heroes commissioned the list. They worked with researchers from Sperling’s BestPlaces and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to come up with a list of 10 metro areas with a strong veteran-owned and small business environment.
They analyzed more than 400 metropolitan areas by criteria such as veteran-owned businesses per capita, small businesses per capita and overall economic stability. Cities in Florida and North Carolina dominated the list.
“This list identifies the top places for those veterans who want to use their discipline and determination to start and grow a small business,” says Eric Eversole, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes.
Geographic location choices are very important for service members entering the civilian workforce, especially those wanting to start their own business, Eversole says.
That’s certainly the case for Brian McCarthy, CEO of Always Home, a real estate company specializing in concierge services for landlords and absentee homeowners. Always Home is based in Sarasota, Florida, which ranks No. 2 on the list of Best Places for Veteran Entrepreneurs.
“We have about 70,000 veterans in Sarasota County and surrounding areas, including 14,000 military officers,” says McCarthy, who served in the Navy. “It’s very veteran friendly with lots of activities for veterans. When you have that type of support, it makes it easy.”
This list provides a snapshot of places where starting a small business could make sense. For instance, it excludes areas with a median cost of living of more than 20 percent above the national average.
It also aligns with the post-separation help service members learn about through the military transition assistance program from the U.S. Department of Defense. USAA also offers the military separation assessment tool to help give veterans a starting point from which to plan their next steps.
Lentini, the Asheville business owner, gives simple advice whenever he meets with others transitioning away from military life.
“Use whatever resources you can get your hands on,” Lentini says. “And don’t be shy about telling customers you’re a veteran. It helps.”
The full entrepreneurship list includes:
(BPT) - There are currently 19.6 million veterans in the United States. These hard working men and women have access to a variety of programs and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during active duty and retirement - yet many are not taking full advantage. Why?
One reason is that the VA system can be difficult to navigate. That’s where the Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Officers can help. NSOs are accredited veteran representatives located at VA regional offices, medical centers or clinics, and military bases throughout the country. Guidance from these experts can make all the difference for veterans of all ages.
In 2014, National Service Officers helped over 19,000 veterans get over 300 million dollars in lifetime benefits from the VA.
“My job is to get them [veterans] the most compensation I possibly can within the guidelines, but I also want to take care of them,” says Sandra Ripe of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Program. “I always encourage them to go to the VA and get enrolled.”
Ripe says a main piece of her job is making veterans comfortable so they can start talking about their experiences. “We talk and figure out what’s going on. Often they don’t think of certain things or don’t realize issues they may be having are combat related, such as tinnitus,” she says.
While veterans can file claims on their own, Ripe doesn’t recommend it. NSOs are experts who not only have ongoing training in the legislation, regulations and precedents, they have relationships within the veteran community they can leverage.
“If I get a really tough case, I can go to appeals at the VA and ask how to put it in, and they will help me, because wording is very important,” Sandra says.
Her primary goal is to put the fully developed claim in correctly the first time with all the proper documentation and evidence to back it up. If submitted incorrectly and a claim has to go into the appeals system, it can take 2-3 years to be resolved opposed to the 4.5 month average a first-time claim takes to make its way through the system.
This complex and time-consuming process is why many veterans miss out on important benefits. The Military Order of the Purple Heart National Service Program, which is funded by the Purple Heart Foundation, assists all veterans who are trying to navigate programs and obtain benefits through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. In addition to health and wellness programs, these benefits include:
Another function of the program is the National Appeals Office in Washington D.C., where expert professional representation is provided to veterans whose claims have been denied at the regional office. This program is one of the few Veteran Service Organizations eligible to take selected cases to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
This Veterans Day, celebrate the service men and women in your life by ensuring they are getting the benefits they deserve. NSOs are available to be advisors and confidants to veterans who struggle to speak openly to friends and family about their time in the service as well as current struggles. They help veterans get the care they need and the benefits they deserve.
Consider making a tax-deductible, nonprofit donation to the Purple Heart Foundation to help support this important program. Visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org to find out how easy it is to help.
A veteran resource station will soon boost services offered by Rancho Cordova Public Library. Opening on Jan. 29th, the facility will assist veterans and their families to connect with their benefits.
“We’ll help them fill out forms,” pledged library Branch Manager Jill Stockinger. “We’ll let them access their VA records by computer; we’ll refer them to help if they’re in crisis or needing food and shelter. This service is much needed in Rancho Cordova. We have many residents who fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Middle East wars. We also have hundreds of homeless veterans here and in surrounding areas. Some don’t know how to get their benefits. They served us, now we can serve them.”
The Veterans Connect @ the Library program has established 28 similar outposts in California. Joining Sacramento Central and Southgate Libraries, Rancho Cordova hosts the third Sacramento center. Organizers are inviting veterans to attend the Jan. 29the kick-off event, which will feature speakers, music, free refreshments, and free advice. After opening, the station will operate at least three days a week. Veterans and non-veterans of any age are sought as station helpers. Online volunteer training is provided at the library; a commitment of at least two hours per week is requested.
The program is funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant, administered through California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rancho Cordova Library is located at 9845 Folsom Boulevard. For information, visit www.saclibrary.org or call (916) 264-2920.
Mary White is an Air Force veteran who was one of the first females stationed at Mather Air Force Base. After serving her country for 10 years, White now puts her energy into helping all veterans as the District 13 Commander of Team Amvets, an agency within the state of California—they can be reached at (916) 320-0804 or via their website at www.teamamvets.org.
I asked White about the services her office provides and was surprised by her answer: “We serve all veterans, in all branches of service, including the Merchant Marines. How many military service organizations can say that?”
White’s office serves El Dorado, Sacramento, and Yolo counties. One of the programs White and her Amvets help organize is: Sacramento Stand Down, a three day event that was most recently held this past summer at Mather Air Force Base (AFB). The event, attended by more than 200 U.S. military veterans, provides essential services and comfort to veterans and their dependents, and has been doing so since Sacramento Stand Down was created in 1992. The mission of the organization is to end homelessness for veterans in Sacramento County, for more information on this visit www.standdownsacramento.org/.
In addition to assisting with Sacramento Stand Down, Amvets provides clothing for veterans who may have a job interview or, as White stated, “fill in the gaps” in essential services for veterans if they need help weaving their way through the maze of bureaucratic paperwork. There are approximately 180,000 veterans living in California with about 10 percent being women.
At the recent Air Show at Mather AFB, the Amvets had a booth that functioned as a clearinghouse for veterans, especially those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “My organization was helpful in saving 28 veterans from committing suicide because they found the help they needed,” said White.
It is reported that a veteran commits suicide every 22 minutes in the United States and, as a reminder, I was given a wristband by White that is inscribed “22 Everyday,” referring to the suicide crisis concerning our veterans. If a veteran calls the (800) 273-8255 crisis line, they will get a counselor to help them deal with their immediate emotions. White told me that veterans do not like to call for help because they believe the myth that “the cops will come and get you,” meaning that they might be detained for psychiatric evaluation.
There has been progress on the PTSD issue. White tells me that Amvets was instrumental in getting the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to veterans that indicate the veteran suffers from PTSD and the act of being pulled over for a vehicle violation may heighten the agitation level of the driver. It does not mean these drivers are dangerous, it just means the officer is aware of who they are dealing with.
White asked me to remind the general public that Amvets would like to get additional support for their organization through financial contributions. Also, volunteering for the organization is always appreciated and is a great way to give back to “those who served.”