Enlisted Air Force chief says she will speak for U.S. airmen facing tax devastation in Germany

Chief Master Sgt. Air Force JoAnne S. Bass discusses her concern for the hardships that Airmen and others face from double taxation efforts by local German tax offices on December 1, 2021, at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany. Bass visited Ramstein this week to thank the Airmen for their role in assisting the Afghan refugees who have passed through the base en route to the United States and to observe the bases’ mission firsthand. (Jennifer H. Svan / Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – After being bombarded with calls for help from members of the military community battling attempts by the German government to tax their salaries, the U.S. Air Force’s top leader said Wednesday that she would defend the airmen concerned and their families.

For more than a year, the US military in Europe and the US Embassy in Berlin have made no tangible progress in resolving a dispute that has forced some to pay German income taxes and penalties to six figures, even after having had their military income taxed by the United States.

The problem is a disagreement over how to interpret the Status of Forces Agreement, which is designed to place military pay limits on foreign tax collectors.

“It was quite disturbing to hear some of the stories,” said the Chief Master Sgt. Air Force JoAnne S. Bass during a stopover at Ramstein Air Base, as part of her first official visit to Germany since taking office in August 2020.

It’s a diplomatic question, Bass said, but “any difficulty for our airmen is disappointing for all of us, so we really need to get to the bottom of it and do our best to help influence the State Department and the government. German to take a resolution to help families.

Upon arriving in Ramstein, Bass heard from airmen, military civilians and spouses involved in high-risk fighting with local German tax authorities.

“I risk being taxed hundreds of thousands of euros because I am married to a local national (a German woman),” wrote an air force master sergeant in an article published on the account. Bass’s official Facebook.

The aviator said he later received a phone call from Bass, who had vowed to look into the situation and wanted to hear from others affected in the same way.

Dozens of servicemen have expressed similar concerns to Bass on Facebook, saying they have been left to fend for themselves.

“The host nation’s tax authorities will not stop unless they are stopped,” a spouse wrote in another message to Bass. “We see them threatening to arrest SOFA-protected US citizens and we are in awe of how this has become the norm for them.”

Another spouse said: “To say that we are the prey of (the financial authority) here in Germany would be an understatement.”

Some tax offices argue that if a serviceman is not in Germany “only” for work, he can be treated as an ordinary resident.

However, there is no concrete mechanism to make this judgment, and the State Department has rejected the justification.

Chief Master Sgt.  Air Force JoAnne S. Bass chats with students from the Kisling NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School during her visit to Kapaun Air Base, Germany, November 30, 2021 It was his first official visit to Germany since taking office in August 2020.

Chief Master Sgt. Air Force JoAnne S. Bass chats with students from the Kisling NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School during her visit to Kapaun Air Base, Germany, November 30, 2021 It was his first official visit to Germany since taking office in August 2020 (John R. Wright / US Air Force)

Chief Master Sgt.  Air Force JoAnne S. Bass chats with students from the Kisling NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School during her visit to Kapaun Air Base, Germany, November 30, 2021 It was his first official visit to Germany since taking office in August 2020.

Chief Master Sgt. Air Force JoAnne S. Bass chats with students from the Kisling NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School during her visit to Kapaun Air Base, Germany, November 30, 2021 It was his first official visit to Germany since taking office in August 2020 (John R. Wright / US Air Force)

Members of the military community say they were informed by authorities that they were identified because they married a German, owned property or even extended their tours.

To avoid being taxed, a person must prove their “willingness” to return to the United States. But the tax authorities continued to prosecute the military even after their return.

Germany is the only country where US forces face these financial risks, which may also involve finance offices imposing additional penalties for accessing “privileges” on the base such as commissary purchases, cheaper gasoline, use of the gym and access to Ministry of Defense schools for their children. .

Bass said she was surprised by the large number of requests from people asking for her help.

But it also showed “the magnitude of what potentially exists,” she said. “I think what was not presented to me is how many of our Americans have been affected by this and then how many of them are in the US Air Force,” she said. “This is pretty important information to know. “

Bass said she called an aviator facing German taxation on Tuesday night “because I wanted to understand one of the stories in its entirety. When I understand that story, I am able to help advocate better.

The aviator told Bass he had to pay out of pocket for a tax lawyer.

“After listening to the challenges he was facing, what I promised him, as I do to all of our airmen, is that I will do my best to advocate for him and at least reach out to the entities that have opportunities to help get engaged and hopefully be able to get to something faster, ”Bass said.

For years, the tax dispute received little public attention as German authorities quietly began opening tax cases. Initially, they focused on American entrepreneurs, but over time the tax authorities – particularly those in the greater Kaiserslautern region which includes the Ramstein Air Base – have broadened their scope.

In 2020, Stars and Stripes shed light on aggressive tactics used by some tax offices in Germany, highlighting how hundreds of people were being targeted and that active-duty troops were also in danger.

Since then, the US Embassy in Berlin has filed a formal complaint. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also raised the issue with his German counterpart in June.

Yet the military continue to be targeted.

In the area around Ramstein Air Base alone, there were around 400 cases last year. But the extent of the problem remains largely unknown, as the finance offices have not released the number of people they taxed or the amount of money seized from Americans.

Bass said she had not been able to obtain data on the number of cases.

“I haven’t been following this except for the last few weeks,” Bass said. “Once I got involved, I started having conversations with senior leadership (from the US European Command) and (US Air Force in Europe) so that I could just say exactly where we are. Regarding US Air Force aviators and their families, “she said.

A group of relevant staff, organized by his wife Mouna Litz, said they are now trying to compile a diary of active cases. Affected families can find out more about the baseline effort by sending an email to [email protected]




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