By Deanna C. White
When visitors walk into the Springfield, Illinois, offices of David J. Hensley, CPA, Inc., the first sight they are greeted with is a folded and framed American flag proudly displayed on the most prominent wall of Hensley's unpretentious, independent office.
The flag, which once flew over a US base in Afghanistan, was given to Hensley as a gesture of gratitude by a Marine Corps officer whose taxes Hensley prepared and filed while the soldier was deployed overseas.
That officer is just one of the active duty, or recently returned, military men and women from Illinois Hensley has proudly served over the past six years working as a volunteer with the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS) through the Military Service Tax Preparation Project. In partnership with the IRS, the project offers free federal and state income tax preparation – performed by ICPAS member volunteers – to active duty military members and their families throughout Illinois.
Especially valuable during the height of tax season, this year-round program is available to members of the Armed Forces from Illinois who have recently returned from, or are still serving in, a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area. Volunteer CPAs use their expertise to help military families take full advantage of the unique tax benefits, exclusions, and filing extensions available to them.
For the past decade, the ICPAS Military Tax Service Preparation Project has helped more than 300 military personnel by making the stressful task of tax preparation easier and alleviating one small concern for them at a trying time in their lives.
The ICPAS Military Service Tax Preparation Project is designed to help those who don't have a relationship with a CPA and who would otherwise have few resources for financial advice and information on IRS guidelines as they relate to military personnel.
To qualify for free tax preparation assistance, individuals must meet the following criteria:
- Be an Illinois resident;
- Be a member of the US Armed Forces having served in a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area within the 2012 tax calendar year; and
- Be a member of the US Armed Forces serving in a contingency operation.
Hensley, who specializes in tax, accounting, and consulting services, has several family members in the military, including two brothers who are still active duty service members.
Hensley said he decided to volunteer for the ICPAS Military Tax Preparation Project because it allowed him to put his skills toward easing a relatively small worry for people who are sacrificing so much for their country – people, Hensley feels "often [don't] receive the same compensation, or remuneration, that people in the private sector do."
According to ICPAS Vice President of Government Relations Marty Green, the project pairs qualifying members of the Armed Forces with ICPAS volunteers in the same regional area.
"The volunteer initially meets with the military member or family member for basic information and then schedules a follow-up meeting to review, complete, and execute the tax return. This also can be done remotely via e-mail, phone and fax", Green recently wrote in an article published in ICPAS' Insight magazine.
But Hensley says regardless of the person or method of contact, whether it's a soldier's mother dropping off paperwork at the office or a marine e-mailing from Afghanistan, one golden rule holds true in his office for all military members served through the project: They are his first priority.
"Everyone in this office understands that when we receive a request from a military member we respond immediately. We make them feel welcome, and no matter how busy we are, we make it abundantly clear that whatever the issue is, we have the time to talk to them", Hensley said.
Green, who in addition to his duties with ICPAS is also a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, said the ICPAS Military Tax Service Preparation Project and the level of commitment demonstrated by the CPA volunteers, truly make a huge impact on military personnel and their families.
"The most important thing about this program is that it shows military families that Americans care; that they recognize their service and sacrifice", Green said. "I've been in National Guard for sixteen years now, and it still always amazes me that every day people will stop and say 'thank you for your service,' or pick up the tab at a restaurant just to say thank you. The Military Tax Service Preparation Project is just the CPA profession's way of doing that."
It's a service, Hensley and his fellow ICPAS volunteers say they are honored to provide.
"When you work with these military members, you gain an absolute understanding of what they're going through; their fears, concerns, and worries . . . the separation from their families", Hensley said. "Yet they are 100 percent dependable. This is just one small, positive thing I can do to help them. It's certainly not up to their level of sacrifice and commitment, but it's what I can do."
For more information about the Military Service Tax Preparation Project or to arrange for assistance from a volunteer CPA, visit the Illinois CPA Society website, www.icpas.org/militarytaxrequest/, or contact Jill Loeser, government relations manager, at (800) 572-9870 or via e-mail at [email protected].