Spouse calls: Tax-free active duty pay fairly simple
I understand that the active duty member’s pay is not taxed for the period that they are deployed to a war zone. Is this true? Does this happen automatically? Is there something that must be done to let DFAS know not to take the taxes out, or is it just claimed at the end of the year when filing taxes?
— P.B., Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Yes, the IRS says military members are exempt from federal income tax on military pay earned in a combat zone. All enlisted pay is exempt, and officers’ pay is exempt up to the highest level of enlisted pay, plus hazardous duty pay.
Even more good news: For spouses back home, there is no additional paperwork for this tax benefit. All the red tape concerning pay should be covered in the myriad of paperwork the military member must complete before departure. At tax time, this benefit is still fairly hassle free. All the information the IRS needs is on the W2. The tax assistance officer for my husband’s office said any income earned in a combat zone is shown in Box 12, preceded by a Q. She also said that if your spouse served in a combat zone during 2006, and there is no amount in Box 12, your spouse should request a corrected copy of the W2 from the finance office. No other form or proof of combat zone earnings is required with your tax return.
How do I help my children adjust in the best way possible when we move?
— J.K., Las Cruces, N.M.
Helping your children make transitions is not something you do just before and after a move. It is a way of life. Throughout every assignment, there are things to love and enjoy and things to be endured. You get to choose which ones to emphasize, and your children will often follow your lead. Finding a great school, a great neighborhood, new friends; all these are helpful. But the way you talk to your children about your mobile life, the way they see you react in transition, these are so important. I don’t mean just “put on a happy face.” You can comfort your children by talking about your own sadness at leaving friends behind. If you depend on your faith, your children will see that too. This bond of shared experience – especially in difficult times – makes your family stronger. Your family’s inner strength will help you weather the outer friction caused by moving.
Here are a couple of practical suggestions. First, make the effort to stay in touch with good friends when you move. Visit faraway friends when possible. All this gives your children continuity, roots, and the knowledge that the bonds of friendship are stronger than geography.
Second, when arriving at a new place, start right away to find activities that your children enjoy. The sooner you do, the sooner they will start to make friends and get acclimated. Look for places to plug in all the members of your family: at the chapel or local church, sports programs and volunteer opportunities.
The older the children, the trickier the transition. Your children might resist your positive attitude rather than embrace it, but they will still see your example, and it makes a difference. What they complain about now, they may later remember fondly.
A reader wrote last week to point out that the DODEA home school directive recommends, but does not require, home schoolers to contact their school liaison officer. I spoke again with Dennis Bohannon, public affairs officer at DODDS-Europe, to get clarification. Installation requirements for home schooling vary, Bohannon said, depending on the branch of service and the host nation. Some installations or commands do require home school registration, he said. Contacting a school liaison officer is “highly encouraged,” Bohannon said, “not only to find out what area-specific rules there may be, but also because the SLO can put them in touch with a great number of resources, including other parents.”
Home schoolers who wish to take advantage of classes must enroll and show they are eligible to attend, just as full time students must do. Home schoolers who wish to join school clubs and sports are welcome, Bohannon said. They too must show eligibility but can take part in extra-curricular activities without enrolling.
Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three. She and her family live in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein, AB. Send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.