NLSO Northwest Realigned but Legal Services in Northwest Continue

By LT Eileen Joy, Defense Service Office, West, Detachment Bremerton

On October 1, 2012, the Judge Advocate General’s Corps reorganized Naval Legal Service Command (NLSC) to meet the Navy’s evolving demands for expeditionary legal services support while continuing to provide quality military justice service. The JAG Corps has replaced the Naval Legal Service Offices (NLSOs) with Defense Service Offices (DSOs). For many years, NLSOs provided both legal assistance services and defense services. Locally, NLSO Northwest became Defense Service Office West Detachment Bremerton on October 1, 2012. DSO West is headquartered in San Diego. The new DSOs’ mission is solely to provide defense services: defending service members in military justice proceedings (e.g. courts-martial), representing them at administrative separation boards, and providing other representational services, including advice on non-judicial punishment and adverse personnel actions.

On October 1, NLSO Northwest transferred its legal assistance services to Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Northwest. Legal assistance services include wills and powers of attorney, pre-deployment readiness briefs, and matters involving consumer, family, landlord-tenant, and predatory lending law. The main legal assistance office onboard Naval Base Kitsap – Bremerton, and the branch offices at Bangor, Naval Station Everett, and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will continue to provide legal assistance service at their current locations. The only difference is that they now operate as part of RLSO Northwest. Legal assistance services themselves will not change upon realignment.

The most notable change is in defense services. Sailors and Marines at all installations in the Navy Region Northwest area of responsibility can still receive court-martial and administrative discharge board representation, NJP advice, assistance with Article 138 complaints, etc. How the Sailors and Marines stationed in Everett and Whidbey Island receive defense service related assistance has changed.

In-person assistance will continue to be available at the DSO West Bremerton detachment located onboard NBK-Bremerton in the existing NLSO Defense spaces in Building 433. However, Sailors and Marines onboard Naval Station Everett and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island seeking defense services such as representation for courts-martial or administrative boards must now contact an attorney at the DSO West Detachment Bremerton office instead of on-site assistance at their respective installations. DSO West Detachment Bremerton may be reached at 360-476-2157 or by email at defensebremerton@navy.mil. Sailors and Marines may call or email from home, from their own command, or from any other location they choose. They may also visit the DSO remote service locations located within the RLSO office on each base and use the private office provided to place their call.

This change will be similar to the way Sailors currently receive personal defense services when they are at sea. Sailors and Marines should be clear upon checking in with the RLSO at those bases that they are there for a phone or video conference with a defense attorney. While RLSO personnel will direct the Sailor or Marine to the private office and provide necessary assistance they should not discuss their particular situation with the RLSO staff.

For more information, please contact the Defense Service Office West Detachment Bremerton Quarterdeck at 360-476-2156.

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PHISHING SCAM TARGETS DISABLED VETS

Consumer Alert – June 2012

By: Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for a new, email-based phishing scam now circulating that targets Department of Defense military members, retirees and civilian employees. The email appears to come from Defense Finance and Accounting Services and displays a .mil email address. The email states that those receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be able to obtain additional funds from the IRS. Email recipients are then asked to send various VA and IRS documents containing their personal and financial information, such as copies of VA award letters or their income tax returns, to an address in Florida.

The information on these documents is then used by the scammers to commit identity theft. Typically, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to empty the victim’s financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards or apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name.

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For more information on IRS news and notifications, go to http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=97322,00.html

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FREE SUMMER FUN FOR MILITARY FAMILIES

Service Members, Families, Get Free Pass to National Parks (http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=116342) 

By Lisa Daniel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2012 – Service members and their families will be able to enter all of America’s national parks free of charge for a year under an initiative announced today.

The pass – the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass, which normally costs $80 – will become available to service members and their dependents [beginning] on Armed Forces Day, May 19.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement this morning, along with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, at a ceremony at Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va., the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The area surrounding the park hosts installations from all the military services, including the world’s largest naval base.

“I think when one goes into Virginia and you see all the sites, the Yorktown battlefield and the whole history of the country, it’s important that those who have fought in the tradition of making sure the nation’s democracy and freedom are protected also have access to these wonderful sites there,” Salazar said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. 

The passes allow the holder and passengers in a single private vehicle access to some 2,000 sites that charge per vehicle. At sites where entrance fees are charged per person, it covers the pass owner and three adults age 16 and older.

The National Park Service estimates that giving away the passes to service members and their families will result in a revenue loss between $2 million and $6 million, but Jarvis said that won’t cause a significant impact on the agency, which collects about $150 million in fees each year.

Military personnel can get the passes at any national park or wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee by showing their military ID. Family members also will be able to obtain their own pass, even if the service member is deployed or if they are traveling separately.

The pass will be accepted at National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.

The free pass will be made available for activated members of the National Guard and reserves, but not for military veterans or retirees, whom Jarvis said have other opportunities for free or reduced admission, such as the National Patrk Service’s “Access Pass” or a seniors pass for those 62 and older.

Jarvis, a 40-year Park Service employee, said that while the free passes are a first, they are representative of the parks’ history with the military, which dates back to the Buffalo Soldiers’ battles with Native Americans in the mid-1800s and the recruitment of former military members to serve as park rangers under the first NPS director, Stephen T. Mather. The Park Service maintains many military historical sites from Gettysburg to Pearl Harbor, and in World War II even closed some parks, such as Mount Rainier in Washington state, to all but active military members, he said.

Right after World War II, the Park Service invested heavily in infrastructure to prepare the parks for returning service members, Jarvis said. Today’s generation of warriors also deserves a deep connection to the parks, he said.

“From my perspective, it is incredibly important to return this group of returning military members to their national parks,” Jarvis said. “Nothing is more core to the American experience than the national parks. These are places for quiet and contemplation and to reconnect to the American experience. And we don’t want there to be any barriers to that.”

The free pass initiative is part of the “Joining Forces” campaign First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched last year to rally Americans around supporting service members and their families.

“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women who make great sacrifices to protect our country and preserve our freedom,” Dr. Biden said in a White House statement. “In recognition of their service, we are so pleased to be putting out a welcome mat for our military families at America’s most beautiful and storied sites.”

Related Sites:

National Park Service http://www.nps.gov/      http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm

Joining Forces http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces

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Avoiding HAMP Mortgage Modification Scams; Resources for Servicemembers

By:The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury

 Armed Services Mortgage Fraud Alert

FRAUD ALERT:

Mortgage modification fraud schemes targeting struggling homeowners and which exploit the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) have become increasingly common, and members of the Armed Services community struggling to make their mortgage payments should beware of con artists and scams that promise to save their homes and lower their mortgage debt or payments.

FACTS:

For servicemembers having trouble paying their mortgage, free help is available. Advice from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counselors is always FREE, as are mortgage modifications under HAMP. In most cases, charging fees in advance for a mortgage modification is illegal. HUD-approved housing counselors can help you avoid scams and better understand your options.

RESOURCES:

Consumer Fraud Alert – For tips on how to identify and avoid mortgage modification scams and to view the Consumer Fraud Alert issued by the HAMP Mortgage Modification Fraud Taskforce, visit www.SIGTARP.gov/documents/Consumer_Fraud_Alert.pdf.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – If you are an active-duty servicemember or veteran and have a VA loan, call the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-877-827-3702 or visit the Loan Guaranty Service Home Loan Program Web site at www.HomeLoans.VA.gov.

Making Home Affordable Program – For free mortgage-related advice and assistance from HUD-approved housing counselors or to apply for HAMP, call the Homeowner’s HOPE™

Hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE (1-888-995-4673) or visit http://www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov. You can apply to HAMP on your own or with free help from a HUD-approved housing counselor. Applying to HAMP is always FREE.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – For additional help and more information about mortgages, dial 1-855-411-2372 or visit www.ConsumerFinance.gov/mortgagehelp.

Fannie Mae – If your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae, for help and more information, dial 1-800-7Fannie or visit www.FannieMae.com/portal/helping-homeowners-communities/veterans-outreach.html.

Freddie Mac – If your mortgage is owned by Freddie Mac, for help and more information, dial 1-800-Freddie (option 2) or visit www.FreddieMac.com/avoidforeclosure/military_assistance.html.

U.S. Department of Agriculture – If your mortgage was issued by the USDA, for help and more information, contact the Centralized Servicing Center at 1-800-414-1226 or visit RDHomeLoans.USDA.gov.

Federal Housing Administration – If your mortgage is insured by FHA, for help and more information, contact the National Servicing Center at 1-877-622-8525 or visit www.HUD.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/nsc/nschome.cfm.

REPORT FRAUD:

Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program – If you believe that you or someone you know has been a victim of a mortgage modification scam exploiting HAMP, dial the SIGTARP Hotline at 1-877-744-2009 or visit http://www.SIGTARP.gov/pages/hotline.aspx to submit a tip, which can be done anonymously.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – To report mortgage modification issues unrelated to HAMP, visit Help.ConsumerFinance.gov/app/mortgage/ask to submit a complaint.

About SIGTARP

The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program investigates fraud, waste, and abuse in connection with TARP.

If you suspect that you may have been a victim of a mortgage modification scam related to HAMP or to report other suspected illicit activity involving TARP, dial the SIGTARP Hotline: 1-877-SIG-2009 (1-877-744-2009).

To receive alerts about quarterly reports, new audits, and media releases issued by SIGTARP, sign up at www.SIGTARP.gov/pages/press.aspx

About CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit the CFPB Web site at www.ConsumerFinance.gov.

About Treasury

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s mission is to maintain a strong economy and create economic and job opportunities by promoting the conditions that enable economic growth and stability at home and abroad, strengthen national security by combating threats and protecting the integrity of the financial system, and manage the U.S. Government’s finances and resources effectively. Treasury administers the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) which is designed to help homeowners prevent avoidable foreclosures.

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AVOID MORTGAGE MODIFICATION SCAMS

SIGTARP, CFPB, AND TREASURY ISSUE A FRAUD ALERT TO THE ARMED SERVICES COMMUNITY TO COMBAT HAMP MORTGAGE MODIFICATION SCAMS

By:The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury

WASHINGTON, DC – The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) [recently] issued a fraud alert to the Armed Services community to combat scams targeted at homeowners seeking to apply for mortgage assistance through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and other federal programs. A number of these scams are specifically targeting members of the Armed Services community.

The fraud alert is designed to raise awareness of these scams and provides a list of resources available to members of the Armed Services community for more information and for assistance with mortgage-related questions and how to report fraud.

The Armed Services Mortgage Fraud Alert is available below and online at www.SIGTARP.gov/documents/military_mortgage_fraud_alert.pdf.

Hallmarks of HAMP mortgage modification scams include: the unofficial use of official program names or logos of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and/or lenders; the advertising of a very high success rate in achieving modifications; and the guarantee of a successful modification in exchange for an upfront fee. Free help is always available.

In December 2011, SIGTARP, CFPB, and Treasury formed a taskforce to protect taxpayers by investigating and shutting down HAMP mortgage modification scams and by providing education to raise awareness among vulnerable homeowners. The taskforce issued a consumer fraud alert which contains tips on how to identify and avoid mortgage modification scams. The consumer fraud alert is available online at www.SIGTARP.gov/documents/Consumer_Fraud_Alert.pdf.

“Members of the Armed Services community often face unique financial challenges and are at particular risk for this type of scam,” said Christy Romero, Special Inspector General at SIGTARP. “We want to empower servicemembers and their families with information so that they can easily recognize and avoid these scams and also provide them with resources on where to turn for additional information and assistance. SIGTARP will continue to work with the CFPB and Treasury and our other partners in law enforcement to shut down these scams and to ensure that their perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes.”

“I applaud the new HAMP guidelines that have special provisions for military personnel. But at the same time it’s important to remind military personnel and their families that there are scammers out there who may guarantee to get them a mortgage modification – for a fee up front. Don’t lose your money on  one of those offers – there are plenty of legitimate, free resources for you if you are looking to modify your loan,” explained Holly Petraeus, Assistant Director, CFPB’s Office for Servicemember Affairs.

“Treasury is fully committed to working with SIGTARP and the CFPB to shut down mortgage scams that falsely represent themselves as government programs,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. “Unfortunately, certain scammers target military families – and we want to make sure military families know to protect themselves and make use of free resources for assistance.”

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Beware – scam emails that appear to be sent by DFAS employees!

By: Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS)

There are emails being sent to individuals, including military members, military retirees, and civilian employees, which appear to be sent by a DFAS employee.  Although the email appears to come from a DFAS employee and displays a dot mil address it is actually from a non-government email account.  This is an example of what’s called “spoofing.”

The emails indicate that individuals who are receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be able to obtain additional funds from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  These emails are not issued by DFAS and will likely result in a financial loss if you comply with the suggestions in the email.  Bottom line – do not send your personal information or copies of your tax returns and 1099s to the individual listed in the email. 

The email indicates that individuals receiving VA disability compensation can receive additional funds from the IRS.  The email states that such funds can be obtained by sending copies of your VA award letter, your income tax returns, your 1099-Rs, your RAS statements, and a copy of your DD 214, to a so-called retired Colonel at an address in Florida.  Do NOT follow the suggestions in the email because you will be providing a significant amount of your personal information to a complete stranger, which could result in a financial loss to you.

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Which military-related tax deductions you can take? Do you qualify for a filing extension because of a deployment or overseas service? The IRS website may have the answers you’re looking for . . .

10 Tips to Ease Tax Time for Military

By: Internal Revenue Service, IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2011-07,  July 20, 2011, www.irs.gov

Military personnel have some unique duties, expenses and transitions. Some special tax benefits may apply when moving to a new base, traveling to a duty station, returning from active duty and more. These tips may put military members a bit “at ease” when it comes to their taxes.

  1. Moving Expenses If you are a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and you move because of a permanent change of station, you can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving you and members of your household.
  2. Combat Pay If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, all your military pay received for military service that month is not taxable. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
  3. Extension of Deadlines The time for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadline for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund, and taking other actions with the IRS is automatically extended for qualifying members of the military.
  4. Uniform Cost and Upkeep If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of those uniforms, but you must reduce your expenses by any allowance or reimbursement you receive.
  5. Joint Returns Generally, joint returns must be signed by both spouses. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.
  6. Travel to Reserve Duty If you are a member of the US Armed Forces Reserves, you can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles away from home to perform your reserve duties.
  7. ROTC Students Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
  8. Transitioning Back to Civilian Life You may be able to deduct some costs you incur while looking for a new job. Expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees, and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible if your move is closely related to the start of work at a new job location, and you meet certain tests.
  9. Tax Help Most military installations offer free tax filing and preparation assistance during the filing season.
  10. Tax Information IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 can be downloaded from http://www.irs.gov or may be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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Additional tax information for members of the U.S. Armed Forces can be found at

 http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=97273,00.html

http://www.irs.gov/businesses/article/0,,id=215861,00.html

or by going to www.irs.gov and typing “military” into the Search box.

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