Take Advantage of No Cost Tax Assistance and Preparation


By Debbie Gregory.

The bad news is that the tax filing deadline will be here before we know it. But the good news is that you have until Tuesday, April 17, 2018, to file your 2017 returns and pay any taxes due. The filing tax deadline is later this year due to several factors.

The usual April 15 deadline falls on Sunday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until at least the following Monday. However, Emancipation Day, a Washington, D.C., holiday, is observed on Monday, April 16, giving taxpayers nationwide an additional day to file. By law, Washington holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do.

And here’s some more good news: there is free tax preparation assistance available to veterans, seniors, and low-income earners.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant program is an IRS initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved through various partner organizations. This service helps low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Military OneSource provides free tax preparation and filing services and tax consultations. MilTax, Military OneSource’s free tax services, provides easy-to-use software that is designed specifically for the military community that can be used from mid-January to mid-October. MilTax consultants are also available to help military members and their families for free. You need to be an eligible Military OneSource user to be able to access the free e-filing software, and will need to log in to your Military OneSource account to get started.

Another free service is MyFreeTaxes, managed by the United Way. MyFreeTaxes operates the only free online tax preparation and filing assistance platform available in all 50 states and Washington D.C. The services are available to those who earned $66,000 or less in 2017, and allows qualified Veterans, active-duty military, their families and all other qualifying taxpayers to file both a federal and state tax return, absolutely free.

The IRS.gov/FreeFile allows taxpayers to choose from a variety of industry-leading tax software options in order to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. If you earned $66,000 or less last year, you are eligible to choose from among 13 software products. If you earned more, you are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms.

Important tips to remember for those who serve:

  • Identify the types of pay and allowances you receive that are not included as part of your gross income
  • You may receive a deduction for moving expenses when you have a permanent change of station
  • You may be able to deduct the cost of work-related education

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Proposed Legislation Would Increase Pay for Guard and Reserve Units

guard and reserve

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have introduced legislation to close the benefits gap for members of the National Guard and Reserve forces deployed on certain pre-planned missions overseas.

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act, “addresses gaps in early retirement eligibility, high-deployment allowance, and pay reductions for mobilized federal civilian employees

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., introduced the bill in the House, H.R. 5038.

“I’m proud to introduce this important piece of legislation with Senator Wicker that will fix the benefits parity gap that disadvantage the National Guard and Reserves,” said Senator Coons. “I will continue to work with my Republican counterparts to pass this bill into law this year to ensure that our nation’s Guardsmen and Reservists are given the benefits they have earned.”

The 2012 version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) established a new mobilization authority allowing the Department of Defense to deploy Guard and Reserve forces for pre-planned missions, known as “12304b” missions,  in support of combatant commanders. Although these Reserve Component members perform the same duties as their active-duty counterparts, they were not eligible to receive the same benefits.

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act closes the gap by:

  • Reducing the age at which a Guardsman or Reservist is eligible to receive military retirement pay by three months for every 90 days mobilized under 12304b authority within a single fiscal year;
  • Providing officers and enlisted Guardsmen and Reservists with a monthly allowance for each month during which they are deployed, if they meet criteria already defined under other mobilization authorities; and
  • Protecting federal civilian employees who are members of the Reserve or National Guard from a reduction in pay when activated by providing a “reservist differential” payment, which already exists under other mobilization authorities.

The National Guard Bureau expects the Army and the Air Force to increase their use of the new authority, mobilizing more than 13,000 Guardsmen total over the next two years.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Pairing Pups and Veterans with PTSD

services pups

By Debbie Gregory.

With an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses within the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs is joining forces with non-profit Canine Companions to study how service dogs might be able to aid those struggling with the disorder.

The joint pilot program is launching at Canine Companions’ Northwest Training Center in Santa Rosa, CA, with the initial participants being chosen within 90 miles of the Santa Rosa facility.

The dogs will be trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTSD.

In the future, Canine Companions hope to expand the program to include first responders (police, fire and emergency medical personnel) with PTSD. They also hope to expand the program geographically.

The study will piggyback on a less formal program the VA kicked off in 2014, although this study will be more comprehensive and more tightly controlled.

“We believe that dogs can be trained in tasks that can help mitigate aspects of PTSD and help someone in their process of recovery along with other resources that exist already,” said instructor Sarah Birman.

Canine Companions will choose the dogs that will participate in the program based on their temperament, confidence and energy levels. They will need to be able to resist reacting to outside stimuli. The organization hopes to place some 20 dogs during the first year of the study.

“Service dogs are another tool that is available to veterans,” she said. “I think the more options that we make available to people the more people will be able to hopefully find something that works for them. PTSD can be an incredibly debilitating condition and really tremendously isolating, and so, if through these dogs we can make a difference in the lives of even just a handful of veterans, then it will absolutely have been worth it.”

Canine Companions has been providing service dogs for people with physical disabilities since 1975.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Guard/Reserve Members Lose Travel-Expense Tax Deduction After 2017

g and r

By Debbie Gregory.

On December 20, 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) designed to cut taxes on individuals and businesses, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. But one aspect of the act will have an impact on Guard and Reserve  members who travel less than 100 miles from home to military duty:  after filing their 2017 tax returns, they will no longer be able to deduct any unreimbursed travel expenses.

Lawmakers raised the standard deduction for single filers from $6,500 to $12,000, but also reduced the amount of personal deductions in the reform bill. As a result, some individuals with more unusual financial situations will see their taxes rise slightly, as those exemptions disappear.

According to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, beginning with tax year 2018, the tax act suspends all miscellaneous itemized deductions, which included the itemized deduction reserve-component members could take for unreimbursed employee expenses on Schedule A of their Internal Revenue Service Form 1040.

While those who drill less than 100 miles away from their home won’t be able to take an itemized deduction, hey may be able to file for reimbursement from the Defense Department.

Those who drill more than 100 miles from home still can deduct their unreimbursed expenses as an above-the-line adjustment to their gross income.

On the flip side, more than 133,000 veterans may qualify for a refund of federal taxes they paid on disability severance pay dating back to 1991 ― taxes that shouldn’t have been collected in the first place.

Eligible veterans will have a year after they receive the notice to file a claim for the refund.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

General Demoted Due to Improper Text Messages


By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has stripped a star from a general who flirted with the wife of an enlisted man that he met in Vicenza, Italy.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington, the former commander of U.S. Army Africa, has been forced to retire as a one-star, the last rank at which he served satisfactorily.

Harrington and the woman exchanges more than 1,000 text messages and Facebook posts over several months.

In some messages, Harrington focused on the woman’s appearance, referring to her as “HOTTIE,” a “Lovely tease” and “looking good for sure.”

The inspector general concluded that Harrington “failed to display exemplary conduct” in engaging with the woman. News of the relationship caused “anger and polarization” at the base. Investigators found his repeated attempts to keep their relationship secret, as well as his requests for her to erase records of their chats showed that Harrington knew it was out of bounds.

The Army issued Harrington a letter of reprimand that stated:  “Over the course of four months, you participated in the exchange of flirtatious messages with the spouse of an enlisted soldier. This behavior reflects poorly on you as a senior officer and commander.”

The unnamed woman involved characterized the relationship as friendly at first, followed by teasing and oblique sexual references.

Harrington issued a statement that said, “I made a mistake by responding to and entering into a private discussion with a soldier’s spouse. While we both considered it a friendship-based conversation, it is clear that the discussion should not have occurred. I hope others can learn from and avoid my mistake.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Captain John Rhoten to Receive TAPS’ 2018 Mentor of Year Award


By Debbie Gregory.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) Military Mentor of the Year Award recognizes outstanding support for the children of America’s fallen heroes. This year, the award goes to Army Capt. John Rhoten, who will be recognized at the annual TAPS Honor Guard Luncheon on March 6th at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.

Rhoten, a native of Stafford, Virginia, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. Since that time he has deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rhoten started in the Infantry and is currently a Military Intelligence officer. He is married and has two daughters. Currently, he serves at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division.

TAPS provides immediate and long-term support to surviving children in part through Good Grief Camps and Campouts, bringing together military surviving adults and children across the area, encouraging them to share with others in a peer-based support network while learning about grief and trauma from some of our nation’s experts.

“As a TAPS volunteer and military mentor, John has given selflessly to honor our nation’s fallen heroes by bringing comfort and support to their surviving families,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS.

As a way to honor his fallen comrades and connect with the families grieving their loss, Rhoten began serving as a TAPS mentor in 2011. He now serves as a group leader at TAPS camps, serving as a role model for other military mentors.

Mark Capra, who lost his father, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Capra in 2008, was paired with Rhoten when Mark attended a Good Grief Camp. The pairing lasted from 2012 to 2014. Capra is now a college student who is serving as a TAPS mentor to other children who have lost a loved one in the military.

“Countless mentors who have bonded with their mentee and kept their relationship for a decade,” said  Carroll. Many travel great distances throughout the year to attend graduations, birthdays, special events with the child.”

We have been proud to work with this outstanding non-profit organization for more than seven years, and look forward to that continued relationship for many years to come.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Flight Surgeon Hit by Helicopter Blade Dies

Flight Surgeon Navy Lt. James Anthony Mazzuchelli or better known as Doc Mazz was memorialized on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton. (Photo courtesy of David Cheers)

By Debbie Gregory.

Officials have identified a Navy lieutenant who succumbed to his injuries after being struck by a spinning helicopter blade Feb. 21 as 32-year-old James A. Mazzuchelli.

Mazzuchelli died on February 24th at Scripps La Jolla Medical Facility following the February 21st accident.

He was a flight surgeon assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 out of Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, where the tragic mishap occurred. The squadron flies UH-1Y Venoms and AH-1Z Cobras.

Mazzuchelli’s connection with his squadron and others whose lives he touched was obvious to the family when they arrived in California after getting news of the accident.

“The squadron has been by our side from the moment we landed,” said David Cheers, Mazzuchelli’s stepfather.

Details on how the accident happened have not been released as there is an ongoing investigation.

Mazzuchelli lived to help others and now, even in death, continues his mission of service to others as an organ donor.

“It was the darkest day for us,” Cheers said of the final organ donation surgery. “But we also knew there were four or five people who had been waiting for organ donations. While one family had a rough day, there were others who had the brightest days of their lives.”

A private memorial service was held at Blinder Chapel, Camp Pendleton on February 27th. The service drew hundreds, including unit commanders, Marines and sailors and fellow military doctors from the base’s naval hospital and other area hospitals.

“He donated his heart, kidneys and liver,” Cheers said. “We know that James lives in other people now.”

Our sincerest condolences go out to the family and loved ones of Lt. Mazzuchelli.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Three Navy Unit Leaders Fired after EO Found Naked In Woods

EO found naked

By Debbie Gregory.

The leadership triad of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 was relieved of duty after the executive officer was found wandering drunk and naked through the woods at Camp Shields in Okinawa, Japan.

Lt. Cmdr. Jason Gabbard was discovered intoxicated and unclothed in a wooded area.

Cmdr. James Cho and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Holden were relieved for mishandling the incident, according to the Navy.

The firings followed “an incident of personal misconduct by the executive officer, and the subsequent mishandling of that incident,” Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) officials said in a statement.

Capt. Nick Yamodis will assume temporary command of the Seabee battalion, which is deployed to Japan from Port Hueneme, until a permanent replacement is named.

“Trust is the foundation for everything we do as military professionals, and we expect our servicemembers to conduct themselves with the integrity and character to justify that trust,” said Cmdr. Cate Cook, spokeswoman for the NECC. “Our senior leaders are entrusted to uphold the highest standards of personal and professional conduct at all times.”

The move to remove all three leaders in a unit’s command is reserved for extreme instances of misconduct or failures.

“Our senior leaders are entrusted to uphold the highest standards of personal and professional conduct at all times,” Cook added. “Meeting these high standards of conduct is as critical as meeting our high standards of material, personnel and operational readiness.”

The Navy relieved the command triad of the destroyer Fitzgerald in one fell swoop last August following a deadly ship collision that left seven sailors dead. The former commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, is now facing a charge of negligent homicide.

Prior to that, the command triad of the destroyer Bainbridge was relieved in 2016 amid a scandal involving fireworks and gambling aboard the ship.

All three senior leaders have been temporarily assigned to Naval Construction Group 1 in Port Hueneme, California.

Military Impersonator Used Helicopter to Impress Woman


By Debbie Gregory.

A Raleigh, NC car mechanic who took a helicopter to SAS Institute headquarters, wearing a battle dress uniform, told security officers that he was picking up a female employee on orders of the U.S. president.
Christian Desgroux pretended to be a three-star U.S. Army general in order to impress a woman who worked at SAS, a privately held technology company that is among the largest based in the state, with 14,000 employees worldwide.

The 57-year-old Desgroux is charged with pretending to be a military officer, which carries a maximum of three years in prison.

When the chartered helicopter landed, Desgroux emerged, wearing a full military battle dress uniform.

The woman, who is married and a 20-year acquaintance of Desgroux’s, had no idea that he was flying a helicopter to pick her up or that he wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with her.

Earlier in 2017, Desgroux chartered a helicopter to Jacksonville, again wearing an Army uniform, and had the pilot land at a KOA Kampground so he could meet briefly with a woman there.

“The defendant has engaged in substantial dishonesty,” said Federal Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers, noting that a number of unrelated state criminal charges are also pending against Desgroux.

Other charges outside the helicopter incident include stalking, assault on a female and misuse of a 911 system – crimes involving his stepdaughter, wife and girlfriend.

Desgroux, a native of Chile, has lived in the Raleigh area for more than three decades and recently became a U.S. citizen. He works out of his home garage as an auto mechanic.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

TRICARE West: Don’t Lose Your Coverage

tricare west

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 50,000 TRICARE users in the newly-formed West region could be on the verge of losing coverage.

United Healthcare used to be the contractor for the West, but as of January 1, 2018, Health Net Federal Services took over the contract. Due to the changeover, registration for all users except check allotment payers didn’t transfer, requiring a new registration.

Again, since this is so important, if you previously made TRICARE enrollment payments via an automated method of either electronic funds transfers (EFT) or recurring credit card (RCC) with United Healthcare, this arrangement did not transfer over to Health Net.

According to Health Net, approximately 39,000 TRICARE Prime retiree users/TRICARE Reserve Select users and 25,000 Reserve or young adult plan beneficiaries still need to update their premium payment. Users were supposed to have done so by December 20, 2017.

Payment methods include electronic funds transfers, credit card or debit card. Retirees have the additional option of using a paycheck allotment.

In order to accommodate those who haven’t yet supplied their updated registration, Health Net has extended their deadline to March 23rd and is sending out a new round of notices to beneficiaries who have yet to submit their payment information.

Health Net will also be sending out an email to those who have a registered email address on file. It is especially important to be on the lookout for these notices, and more importantly, to comply with the request for registration, regardless if any notices, if you know  you are among those who could be losing coverage.

The TRICARE West Region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas (areas of Western Texas only), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.