By Gina Martinez
Michael O’Kane, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 32 in Whitestone, proposed setting up a veterans committee on CB7 to help returnees navigate life after their service.
O’Kane, a Vietnam vet, talked about his negative experience while in the military and upon returning at the board’s monthly meeting Monday night. He said he has had health complications from being exposed to Agent Orange and that he never got decent help from Veterans Affairs. He said receiving tips and direction from someone who has already navigated the bureaucracy is beneficial.
“To the best of my knowledge there’s only one more and that’s on Community Board 5, my board,” he said. “For the guys coming home there’s a disconnect between getting their benefits, getting in touch and knowing what they have. Vietnam veterans, we can help them with that, we’re good at it. We’re good at navigating the bureaucracy that is the V.A.”
O’Kane believes a veterans committee on CB7 would be good for returnees in the district
“With a veterans committee you can help the returnees get their benefits on a local level,” he said. “We can direct them to probably one of the best veteran service offices in the state, if not the country.”
The board agreed to discuss and decide at a later time if a committee is needed.
Next, Matthew McWhirr, a representative from the Treasury Office of Investigation, came to inform residents of an IRS impersonation scam he said is tricking people across the country.
McWhirr said this scam has been the largest case in the agency’s history and that in the last two months more than 50 people have been arrested and 27 indicted.
He said the scam originated in India with low level operatives in the States.
“The way it works its this,” he said. “You get a call out of the blue, It’s usually someone with a foreign accent, but with a nondescript name like John Smith. What they’re going to say is you are under investigation by the IRS, that you owe $3,000, which is a lot for most people, but still an attainable amount. They tell you have to pay immediately, and if you don’t pay, they’ll have the city marshal waiting down the street to pick you up.”
When someone scoffed at the meeting McWhirr said the scam isn’t so far-fetched.
“If they know they’re not going to get the money from you, they hang up,” he said. ‘But most folks actually do have legitimate tax issues and think ‘Oh, my God, I though I owed $30,000. If I can just pay $2,000, I’m going to do it’. Then you have some people who don’t owe any money, but think maybe they overlooked something by mistake and don’t want to go to jail. Sometimes if they detect an accent they threaten deportation as well.”
He said that people are likely to go along with the scam because of fear.
“The IRS is a scary agency to be realistic. They do have law enforcement authority, they do make arrests and prosecute you criminally. It’s not like someone is calling you telling you they’re going to cut off your Cable Vision.”
McWhirr told people to spread the word. He said to never give any personal information over the phone and that when dealing with the IRS it’s best to do it in person. The IRS does not call people anymore. His tip with dealing with scammers is to either hang up immediately or tell the caller “I know this is a scam” and they’ll hang up.
There was also a hearing on the proposed construction of a 22-single family homes on Sullivan Drive in Whitestone. The board voted yes unanimously.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart