USS NEW ORLEANS, At sea - With the 2011 income tax filing deadline quickly approaching, Sailors and Marines deployed aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) are taking full advantage of the Volunteer Tax Assistance (VITA) program offered on board the ship, March 19-24.
The VITA program gives eligible military members and their spouses free help with preparing and filing their tax returns by utilizing specially trained volunteers aboard the ship.
"The training process is about a week-and-a-half and it's a self-paced course," said Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Helstrom, a VITA team leader for the ship.
Helstrom said the volunteers must pass several tests before they are allowed to prepare tax forms for other individuals.
The program is aimed at junior Sailors and Marines, but the program is available to all ranks.
Helstrom said VITA is also especially helpful for those who own multiple properties, have foreign spouses without social security numbers or who are in the process of applying for an individual taxpayer identification number.
"We're not tax gurus, but when it comes down to it we can help when needed," said Helstrom. "We can be put in a lot of different situations while deployed; dealing with taxes can be a real headache, especially since we're so far away from home."
Helstrom said that in addition to filing returns, his team can also help Sailors and Marines file a 180-day extension so they don't have to worry about filing their taxes until after they return from deployment.
Sailors and Marines who have used the program said they find it extremely helpful during the current deployment.
Cpl. James Green, assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and first time VITA program participant, said he recommends all junior service members take advantage of the free program.
"They sit you down one-on-one and give you a rundown on things that need to be accomplished and how you can do it," said Green.
New Orleans and embarked Marines assigned to the 11th MEU are deployed as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.