With the support of Citi Community Development, the CSUN VITA Clinic offered free tax preparation services dedicated to veterans throughout Los Angeles County for the third year in a row. The goal of the Veterans Initiative Program (VIP) is two-fold: 1) Veterans receive hands on assistance with their financial and tax-related issues at no cost to the client, and 2) Veteran volunteers gain realworld experience as tax preparers that can help propel their careers in the future.
This year, the clinics operated four sites throughout Los Angeles County that were dedicated to serving veterans. “The focus of this continuing initiative is to provide veterans with greater access to obtaining fnancial resiliency,” said accounting professor Raf Efrat, director of CSUN’s VITA Clinic and the Bookstein Institute for Higher Education in Taxation in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. This fall, the CSUN VITA Clinic VIP will also assist San Diego City College as it embarks on a similar effort in San Diego.
“Service members transitioning out of the military often face difficulty establishing fnancial stability due to quickly changing housing, income and benefits,” said James Alva, Southern California market manager, Citi Community Development. “By expanding access to free tax preparation, offered by trusted veteran peers, the CSUN VITA Clinic VIP helps eligible, low-income veterans take an important step toward building a more secure financial future.”
“This program helps veterans connect with other veterans who share their experience within the military and helps them adapt to life afterwards,” said Manuel Martinez, operations supervisor for the CSUN Veterans Initiative Program. “I want to impact the veteran community by empowering low-income veterans to become financially resilient. The veteran community is often overlooked and underprivileged; with this, we are able to give back to our national heroes.”
The veterans who directly work in the VITA Clinic must be trained in order to become Certifed Tax Preparers. This ensures that volunteers are receiving professional tax services and that volunteers have the sufficient knowledge in order to assist clients.
“We hold our volunteers to a few basic standards,” said Martinez. “Be friendly, professional and competent. We try and foster the idea that taxes are not as scary as they seem and, with the right preparation, should be completed in a timely and effcient manner.”
This clinic specifically is targeting a highly vulnerable population as veterans are, unfortunately, preyed upon by tax scammers and those who want to take advantage of them financially.
“We have a lot of horror stories from clients that come in,” said Martinez. “Some have had their tax return stolen, or false and inaccurate returns were made on their behalf.”
Unfortunately, due to the health concerns caused by the novel coronavirus, operations were halted in mid-March. However, starting in early May, Martinez was able to use the HIPAA-Zoom to fle tax returns for clients virtually. Martinez hopes to pick up operations next tax year.
“Clients come back to us year after year,” said Martinez. “It is because we provide a level of service, care and accuracy for them.”