The CSUN VITA Clinic this year embarked on an initiative to increase access to free tax preparation services for lower-income veterans in Los Angeles. This initiative is an innovative effort in collaboration with Citi Community Development and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration.
The VITA Clinic veteran program trains veteran and non-veteran volunteers as IRS-certified tax filers with the goal of assisting other veterans with filing their federal and state returns, and developing positive financial planning skills.
Veterans must have an annual household income under $54,000 to be eligible to receive free tax preparation. A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed that the median income for veterans nationwide is $37,466.
“It’s actually nice and empowering to help veterans, and it’s nice to give back to them,” said Raymond Bucci, a military veteran who volunteered for the CSUN VITA Clinic during the 2018 tax season.
Bucci recalled the first time that he helped a veteran file his income tax return. “The first time I prepared taxes I wasn't really experienced or confident in my skills,” he said, laughing. A new virtual service is also being offered to veterans residing in remote areas in Los Angeles County, who may otherwise have difficulty accessing service in one of the 20 CSUN VITA sites. Bucci described the process as very modern and efficient. The tax preparers connect with their clients through Zoom, a video conferencing tool, and fill out the respective form for their veteran clients.
“It’s very efficient, it makes it easier for them,” said Bucci. In Los Angeles County, about 70,000 veterans qualify for the EITC and for free tax preparation services through the VITA Program, but only about 5 percent took advantage of the service in 2017. Mario Brizuela, Veteran Initiative Project coordinator, said that this new initiative is meant to help younger generations of veterans. Brizuela also said that many veterans are grateful for the free services, helping many save as much as $300 for tax preparation fees. “Due to our free services, these veterans get to keep their full refund,” he said.