Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

Ian M. Comisky and Matthew D. Lee have authored a Journal of Taxation article entitled “IRS in the Offing? Marinello Limits Tax Obstruction Prosecutions.” In their article, Ian and Matt write that its recent decision in Marinello, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt taxpayers a rare win by significantly constraining the government’s ability to employ the criminal tax obstruction of justice statute. Construing the Section 7212(a) “Omnibus Clause,” which makes it a felony “corruptly or by force” to “endeavo[r] to obstruct or imped[e]… the due administration of [the Internal Revenue Code],” the Court rejected the notion that the statute covers “virtually all governmental efforts to collect taxes.” Concerned that the statute could reach, among other things, cash payments to a babysitter, the Court instead engrafted seemingly important nexus requirements to the statute. Specifically, the Court held that the provision requires specific interference with targeted governmental tax-related proceedings, “such as an investigation, an audit, or other targeted administrative action.” It will be up to the lower courts to determine the full scope of this limitation. You can read the full article here.

Reprinted with permission from the October 2018 edition of the Journal of Taxation.  

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The Internal Revenue Service Large Business and International division (LB&I) has announced the approval of five additional compliance campaigns. LB&I announced on January 31, 2017, the rollout of its first 13 campaigns, followed by 11 campaigns on November 3, 2017, five campaigns on March 13, 2018, six campaigns on May 21, 2018, and five more on July 2, 2018. In addition, LB&I continues to review the tax reform legislation enacted on December 22, 2017, to determine which existing campaigns, if any, could be impacted as a result of a change in the law.

LB&I is moving toward issue-based examinations and a compliance campaign process in which it decides which compliance issues that present risk require a response in the form of one or multiple treatment streams to achieve compliance objectives. This approach makes use of IRS knowledge and deploys the right resources to address those issues. The campaigns are the culmination of an extensive effort to redefine large business compliance work and build a supportive infrastructure inside LB&I. Campaign development requires strategic planning and deployment of resources, training and tools, metrics and feedback. LB&I is investing the time and resources necessary to build well-run and well-planned compliance campaigns.

These five additional campaigns were identified through LB&I data analysis and suggestions from IRS employees. LB&I’s goal is to improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of non-compliance, and make the greatest use of limited resources.

The five campaigns selected for this rollout are:

  • IRC Section 199 – Claims Risk Review

Public Law 115-97 repealed the Domestic Production Activity Deduction (DPAD) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.  This campaign addresses all business entities that may file a claim for additional DPAD under IRC Section 199. The campaign objective is to ensure taxpayer compliance with the requirements of IRC Section 199 through a claim risk review assessment and issue-based examinations of claims with the greatest compliance risk.

  • Syndicated Conservation Easement Transactions

The IRS issued Notice 2017-10, designating specific syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions, requiring disclosure statements by both investors and material advisors. This campaign is intended to encourage taxpayer compliance and ensure consistent treatment of similarly situated taxpayers by ensuring the easement contributions meet the legal requirements for a deduction, and the fair market values are accurate. The initial treatment stream is issue-based examinations. Other treatment streams will be considered as the campaign progresses.

  • Foreign Base Company Sales Income: Manufacturing Branch Rules

In general, foreign base company sales income (FBCSI) does not include income of a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) derived in connection with the sale of personal property manufactured by such corporation. However, if a CFC manufactures property through a branch outside its country of incorporation, the manufacturing branch may be treated as a separate, wholly owned subsidiary of the CFC for purposes of computing the CFC’s FBCSI, which may result in a subpart F inclusion to the U.S. shareholder(s) of the CFC.

The goal of this campaign is to identify and select for examination returns of U.S. shareholders of CFCs that may have underreported subpart F income based on certain interpretations of the manufacturing branch rules. The treatment stream for the campaign will be issue-based examinations.

  • 1120F Interest Expense/Home Office Expense

This campaign addresses compliance on two of the largest deductions claimed on Form 1120-F, U.S. Income Tax Return of a Foreign Corporation. Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 provides a formula to determine the interest expense of a foreign corporation that is allocable to their effectively connected income. The amount of interest expense deductions determined under Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 can be substantial. Treasury Regulation Section 1.861-8 governs the amount of Home Office expense deductions allocated to effectively connected income. Home Office Expense allocations have been observed to be material amounts compared to the total deductions taken by a foreign corporation.

The campaign compliance strategy includes the identification of aggressive positions in these areas, such as the use of apportionment factors that may not attribute the proper amount of expenses to the calculation of effectively connected income. The goal of this campaign is to increase taxpayer compliance with the interest expense rules of Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 and the Home Office expense allocation rules of Treasury Regulation Section 1.861-8. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations.

  • Individuals Employed by Foreign Governments & International Organizations

In some cases, individuals working at foreign embassies, foreign consular offices, and various international organizations may not be reporting compensation or may be reporting it incorrectly. Foreign embassies, foreign consular offices and international organizations operating in the U.S. are not required to withhold federal income and social security taxes from their employees’ compensation nor are they required to file information reports with the Internal Revenue Service.

This lack of withholding and reporting results in unreported income, erroneous deductions and credits, and failure to pay income and Social Security taxes. Because this is a fluid population, there may be a lack of knowledge regarding tax obligations. This campaign will focus on outreach and education by partnering with the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions to inform employees of foreign embassies, consular offices and international organizations. The IRS will also address noncompliance in this area by issuing soft letters and conducting examinations.

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August 23, 2018

Two weeks ago federal prosecutors announced criminal tax charges against the owners of five Chicago-area restaurants as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the underreporting of gross receipts using sales suppression software. The charges allege that the defendants willfully avoided paying the full amount of federal taxes by reporting gross receipts that were substantially lower than the true amounts. This case appears to be the largest and perhaps most significant federal criminal case to date against businesses that use sale suppression techniques to conceal revenue from tax authorities.

Commonly called “zappers,” sales suppression software programs run on a point-of-sale computers or cash registers and are used to secretly delete some or all cash transactions. The result is that the company’s books appear to be complete and accurate but are in fact false because they reflect fewer sales than were actually made. An article published by BNA last year reported that tax-zapping software costs states $21 billion in taxes annually and that 30 percent of the electronic cash registers, or point-of-sale systems, in the United States have a zapper installed.

To date, state attorneys general and revenue departments have taken the lead in cracking down on businesses that use sales suppression techniques. In the last two years, state authorities in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Connecticut have successfully prosecuted criminal cases against businesses and their owners — primarily in the restaurant industry. Washington’s attorney general has been particularly aggressive in this area, filing earlier this year what he called the largest sales suppression case in the state’s history and two years ago what he called the “first-of-its-kind” zapper prosecution. In addition, numerous states have also passed laws outlawing the use of zappers and other types of sales suppression devices.

The Internal Revenue Service has been conspicuously absent from efforts to prosecute businesses and their owners for use of zappers, leading many to wonder whether the IRS would ever play a role or leave the anti-zapper efforts to the states. The only notable federal case to date involved John Yin, a salesman for a company that sold sales suppression software who was charged in December 2016. Yin sold zapper software to businesses in the Seattle area from at least 2009 through mid-2015. He pleaded guilty to assisting in the widespread distribution of zappers to dozens of customers in and around Seattle over the course of several years, and was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison. While we expected a wave of federal prosecutions to follow the Yin case, that has not yet materialized (at least not publicly).

The federal charges in Chicago are the first federal charges in a zapper case since the Yin case. Five separate, and for the most part unrelated, business owners were charged in what was described as a “federal investigation targeting underreporting of gross receipts.” It appears that the federal investigation may have been prompted by a prior state case against one of the defendants. In August 2017, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced charges against Sandra Sanchez, owner of Cesar’s Restaurant in Chicago. In that case, Sanchez was charged with theft and tax evasion for defrauding the state out of more than $100,000 by using a sales suppression device to underreport more than $1 million in sales to the Illinois Department of Revenue. The Attorney General alleged that between January 2012 and October 2015, Sanchez used a zapper to falsify electronic sales records to avoid paying the full amount of sales and use taxes to the state each month. The Sanchez prosecution was the first zapper case prosecuted in Illinois, following the state’s enactment of anti-zapper legislation in 2013. The press release announcing the charges noted that IRS criminal investigators assisted in the investigation. The Illinois Attorney General has not issued any subsequent press releases regarding this case, so it is not clear whether Sanchez has pleaded guilty or will be proceeding to trial or is cooperating with investigators.

Sandra Sanchez was one of the five individuals charged federally in Chicago two weeks ago. And the press release announcing the charges noted that she was charged by information, not by indictment, indicating that she has likely agreed to plead guilty. Also charged at the same time was Israel Sanchez, owner of a restaurant called Cesar’s on Broadway. Like Sandra Sanchez, Israel Sanchez was charged by information, indicating that he too is likely to plead guilty.

Given the prior state charges filed against Sandra Sanchez, and the apparent forthcoming federal guilty pleas by both Sandra Sanchez and Israel Sanchez, it may well be the case that one or both of these individuals are cooperating and assisting state and federal investigators with their zapper investigation. Indeed, last week’s Justice Department press release indicates that the federal investigation is ongoing and therefore may be more broadly focused than the five individuals charged. Indeed, the special agent-in-charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago warned that these charges are just tip of the iceberg, and that cash-intensive businesses using zappers are at risk: “This is only the beginning. I want to warn those restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and other establishments that are currently using or thinking of using sales suppression software, that we are on to you and your methods.”

Three other individuals were charged in Chicago last week: Shuli Zhao, owner of Katy’s Dumpling House in Westmont; Chun Xu Zhang, owner of Sushi City in Downers Grove; and Quan Shun Chen, owner of Hunan Spring in Evanston. It is not clear from the press release and charging documents whether these three individuals are related to each other or if they are related to the other two individuals charged, Sandra Sanchez and Israel Sanchez. Unlike the Sanchezes, these three business owners were charged by indictments, indicating that they are contesting the charges and are not pleading guilty.

The Chicago cases appear to be the most significant federal criminal case alleging use of tax zapper technology to date. As noted, for the past several years, state authorities have been taking a lead role in investigating and prosecuting businesses that use sale suppression technology. The Chicago cases are significant not only because they represent the first federal charges against business owners in many years (as opposed to the Yin case, which involved a zapper salesman) but also because they appear to be part of a larger investigation of Chicago-area businesses that use zappers. With guilty pleas expected from two of the individuals charged, at least one of those individuals likely cooperating, and the investigation ongoing, we anticipate seeing more federal charges arising out of this likely widening-probe.

Reprinted with permission from Law360. (c) 2018 Portfolio Media. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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BitcoinEarlier this week the Internal Revenue Service announced creation of a virtual currency compliance initiative that will focus on tax compliance by taxpayers engaging in virtual currency transactions. The IRS intends to address non-compliance in this area by conducting audits and engaging in taxpayer outreach, and by issuing future guidance. As part of this announcement, the IRS urged taxpayers with unreported virtual currency transactions to correct their tax returns, but also cautioned that it has no plans to offer a voluntary disclosure program in this area.

As we have previously reported, the IRS is focusing significant attention on tax compliance with respect to cryptocurrency transactions. Last year, the IRS prevailed in its long-running litigation with Coinbase seeking the names of clients who engaged in cryptocurrency transactions during 2013-2015, and Coinbase announced that it was disclosing transaction data to the IRS for 13,000 of its customers. In addition, the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division is ramping up its scrutiny of cryptocurrency transactions by assembling a team of specialized investigators in this area. And earlier this year, the IRS issued a very public “reminder” to taxpayers about reporting cryptocurrency transactions and threating audits, penalties, and even criminal prosecution for non-compliance.

The virtual currency announcement by the IRS Large Business and International Division (LB&I) was part of its roll-out of five additional “compliance campaigns” which are targeted at specific issues presenting risks of non-compliance. In early 2017, LB&I announced that it would be moving toward a risk-based approach to taxpayer examinations, and to date has identified 35 compliance issues that will guide its examination strategy moving forward.

The IRS described its newly-announced virtual currency campaign as follows:

U.S. persons are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources including transactions involving virtual currency. IRS Notice 2014-21 states that virtual currency is property for federal tax purposes and provides information on the U.S. federal tax implications of convertible virtual currency transactions. The Virtual Currency Compliance campaign will address noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency through multiple treatment streams including outreach and examinations. The compliance activities will follow the general tax principles applicable to all transactions in property, as outlined in Notice 2014-21. The IRS will continue to consider and solicit taxpayer and practitioner feedback in education efforts, future guidance, and development of Practice Units. Taxpayers with unreported virtual currency transactions are urged to correct their returns as soon as practical. The IRS is not contemplating a voluntary disclosure program specifically to address tax non-compliance involving virtual currency.

The four other new compliance campaigns unveiled by LB&I this week include (1) restoration of sequestered AMT credit carryforward; (2) S corporation distributions; (3) repatriation via foreign triangular reorganizations; and (4) Section 965 transition tax. These campaigns are decribed in more detail as follows:

  • Restoration of Sequestered AMT Credit Carryforward

LB&I is initiating a campaign for taxpayers improperly restoring the sequestered Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) credit to the subsequent tax year. Refunds issued or applied to a subsequent year’s tax, pursuant to IRC Section 168(k)(4), are subject to sequestration and are a permanent loss of refundable credits. Taxpayers may not restore the sequestered amounts to their AMT credit carryforward. Soft letters will be mailed to taxpayers who are identified as making improper restorations of sequestered amounts. Taxpayers will be monitored for subsequent compliance. The goal of this campaign is to educate taxpayers on the proper treatment of sequestered AMT credits and request that taxpayers self-correct.

  • S Corporation Distributions

S Corporations and their shareholders are required to properly report the tax consequences of distributions. We have identified three issues that are part of this campaign. The first issue occurs when an S Corporation fails to report gain upon the distribution of appreciated property to a shareholder. The second issue occurs when an S Corporation fails to determine that a distribution, whether in cash or property, is properly taxable as a dividend. The third issue occurs when a shareholder fails to report non-dividend distributions in excess of their stock basis that are subject to taxation. The treatment streams for this campaign include issue-based examinations, tax form change suggestions, and stakeholder outreach.

  • Repatriation via Foreign Triangular Reorganizations

In December 2016, the IRS issued Notice 2016-73 (“the Notice”), which curtails the claimed “tax-free” repatriation of basis and untaxed CFC earnings following the use of certain foreign triangular reorganization transactions. The goal of the campaign is to identify and challenge these transactions by educating and assisting examination teams in audits of these repatriations.

  • Section 965 Transition Tax

Section 965 requires United States shareholders to pay a transition tax on the untaxed foreign earnings of certain specified foreign corporations as if those earnings had been repatriated to the United States. Taxpayers may elect to pay the transition tax in installments over an eight-year period. For some taxpayers, some or all of the tax will be due on their 2017 income tax return. The tax is payable as of the due date of the return (without extensions).

Earlier this year, LB&I engaged in an outreach campaign to leverage the reach of trade groups, advisors and other outside stakeholders to raise awareness of filing and payment obligations under this provision. The external communication was circulated through stakeholder channels in April 2018.

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The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday, June 22, 2018, to consider the nomination of Charles P. Rettig to be Commissioner of Internal Revenue.  The President nominated Rettig more than four months ago to succeed John Koskinen, whose term as Commissioner ended in November 2017. Since Koskinen’s departure, David J. Kautter has served as Acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and he also serves as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy. We profiled Rettig in a prior post which you can read here.

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BitcoinThe American Institute of Certified Public Accountants – the world’s largest association of accounting professionals – yesterday asked the Internal Revenue Service to issue immediate, updated guidance regarding the tax treatment of cryptocurrency transactions. The AICPA call for tax guidance was prompted by “the rapid emergence of virtual currency [which] has generated several new questions on how the tax rules apply to various transactions involving virtual currency and activities and assets related to it.” The AICPA further noted that “the development in the number of types of virtual currencies and the value of these currencies make these questions both timely and relevant to a growing number of taxpayers and tax practitioners.”

Fours years ago, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, its first and only guidance regarding the tax treatment of cryptocurrency transactions. The AICPA requests that the IRS issue immediate guidance to address issues from the original notice as well as new developments, such as chain splits, that have arisen since Notice 2014-21 was published.

The AICPA’s submission to the IRS includes suggested Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that address the following areas:

  • Expenses of obtaining virtual currency;
  • Acceptable valuation and documentation;
  • Computation of gains and losses;
  • Need for a de minimis election;
  • Valuation for charitable contribution purposes;
  • Virtual currency events;
  • Virtual currency held and used by a dealer;
  • Traders and dealers of virtual currency;
  • Treatment under Sec. 1031;
  • Treatment under Sec. 453;
  • Holding virtual currency in a retirement account; and
  • Foreign reporting requirements for virtual currency.

The AICPA notes that “[v]irtual currency transactions, in which taxpayers increasingly engage, add a new layer of complexity to the analysis of a client’s reporting requirements” and that “[t]he issuance of clear guidance in this area will provide confidence and clarity to preparers and taxpayers on application of the tax law to virtual currency transactions.”

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The House Appropriations Committee today released the FY2019 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which provides annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and related agencies.

The bill provides $11.6 billion for the Internal Revenue Service, an increase of $186 million above the FY2018 enacted level. Of the funds, $77 million are earmarked to help the IRS with implementing the new tax code adopted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The bill provides IRS Taxpayer Services an additional $31 million above the FY2018 enacted level to support the agency’s customer service function (such as phone calls and correspondence) as well as funding for fraud prevention and cybersecurity.

The IRS has faced nearly a decade of declining appropriations, causing the agency to enact deep cuts in enforcement personnel and customer service activities, among other reductions. The FY2019 proposed appropriation of $11.6 billion is more than $2 billion less than the appropriated amount nine years ago, in FY2010. Further complicating matters, in FY2019 the IRS will be faced with continuing implementation of the most significant reform of the Internal Revenue Code in decades.

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Today the Internal Revenue Service notified taxpayers that it will soon be issuing regulations addressing the deductibility of state and local tax payments for federal income tax purposes. The IRS also reminded taxpayers that federal law controls the characterization of payments for federal income tax purposes regardless of the characterization of the payments under state law. These forthcoming regulations are targeted at efforts by some states, including New York and New Jersey, to pass laws providing for mechanisms to work around the newly-enacted federal cap on state and local deductions. These “workarounds” typically allow taxpayers to make payments to specified entities in exchange for a tax credit against state and local taxes owed.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limited the amount of state and local taxes an individual can deduct in a calendar year to $10,000. The IRS said that the regulations, to be issued in the near future, will help taxpayers understand the relationship between federal charitable contribution deductions and the new statutory limitation on the deduction of state and local taxes. The IRS also warned that it is continuing to monitor other legislative proposals being considered to ensure that federal law controls the characterization of deductions for federal income tax filings. The limitation imposed by the TCJA applies to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.

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Yesterday the Internal Revenue Service’s Large Business and International Division announced that it was adding six more compliance campaigns to its previously-announced list of 29 such campaigns. The compliance campaigns signify LB&I’s move toward “issue-based examinations” premised upon pre-selected issues that present the greatest risk of non-compliance. According to LB&I, the stated goal of this effort is to “improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of non-compliance, and make the greatest use of limited resources.”

In January 2017, LB&I unveiled its first 13 campaigns to be implemented as part of its effort to move toward issue-based examinations of taxpayers based upon risk assessments. In November 2017, LB&I announced the identification and selection of 11 additional compliance campaigns. At the time, LB&I stated that more campaigns would continue to be identified, approved, and launched in the coming months. On March 13, 2018, LB&I announced the addition of five more issues to the growing list of compliance campaigns.

In yesterday’s announcement, LB&I stated that is currently reviewing the tax reform legislation signed into law on December 22, 2017, “to determine which existing campaigns, if any, could be impacted as a result of a change in the controlling statutory framework.” LB&I further stated that “[i]nformation regarding any identified impact will be communicated after that analysis has been completed.”

According to LB&I, the six new campaigns were identified through data analysis and suggestions from IRS employees.  The six campaigns selected for this rollout, and a description of each, are as follows:

Interest Capitalization for Self-Constructed Assets

When a taxpayer engages in certain production activities they are required to capitalize interest expense under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 263A. Interest capitalization applies to interest a taxpayer pays or incurs during the production period when producing property that meets the definition of designated property. Designated property under IRC Section 263A(f) is defined as (a) any real property, or (b) tangible personal property that has: (i) a long useful life (depreciable class life of 20 years or more), or (ii) an estimated production period exceeding two years, or (iii) an estimated production period exceeding one year and an estimated cost exceeding $1,000,000.

The goal of this campaign is to ensure taxpayer compliance by verifying that interest is properly capitalized for designated property and the computation to capitalize that interest is accurate. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations, education soft letters, and educating taxpayers and practitioners to encourage voluntary compliance

Forms 3520/3520-A Non-Compliance and Campus Assessed Penalties

This campaign will take a multifaceted approach to improving compliance with respect to the timely and accurate filing of information returns reporting ownership of and transactions with foreign trusts. The Service will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including, but not limited to, examinations and penalties assessed by the campus when the forms are received late or are incomplete.

Forms 1042/1042-S Compliance

Taxpayers who make payments of certain U.S.-source income to foreign persons must comply with the related withholding, deposit, and reporting requirements. This campaign addresses Withholding Agents who make such payments but do not meet all their compliance duties. The Internal Revenue Service will address noncompliance and errors through a variety of treatment streams, including examination.

Nonresident Alien Tax Treaty Exemptions

This campaign is intended to increase compliance in nonresident alien (NRA) individual tax treaty exemption claims related to both effectively connected income and Fixed, Determinable, Annual Periodical income. Some NRA taxpayers may either misunderstand or misinterpret applicable treaty articles, provide incorrect or incomplete forms to the withholding agents or rely on incorrect information returns provided by U.S. payors to improperly claim treaty benefits and exempt U.S. source income from taxation. This campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

Nonresident Alien Schedule A and Other Deductions

This campaign is intended to increase compliance in the proper deduction of eligible expenses by nonresident alien (NRA) individuals on Form 1040NR Schedule A. NRA taxpayers may either misunderstand or misinterpret the rules for allowable deductions under the previous and new Internal Revenue Code provisions, do not meet all the qualifications for claiming the deduction and/or do not maintain proper records to substantiate the expenses claimed. The campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

NRA Tax Credits

This campaign is intended to increase compliance in nonresident alien individual (NRA) tax credits. NRAs who either have no qualifying earned income, do not provide substantiation/proper documentation, or do not have qualifying dependents may erroneously claim certain dependent related tax credits. In addition, some NRA taxpayers may also claim education credits (which are only available to U.S. persons) by improperly filing Form 1040 tax returns. This campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including outreach/education and traditional examinations.

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