As a retired Army officer, I am disappointed and disheartened by the apparent inability of our Veterans Administration to provide our service members with care that is timely and appropriate to their needs. I suppose it is natural, given Americans generosity and favorable view of those who serve, that private individuals and organizations have sprung into action to fill the gaps.
Who cannot respond to the images of amputees struggling to regain mobility, to post-traumatic stress disorder victims working to put family relationships back together and to horribly disfigured burn victims facing multiple surgeries? And therein lies a problem: Nationally, over 40,000 organizations claim to support veterans. The president of Fidelity Charitable, which makes donations on behalf of charitable trusts it administers, is just now researching how to best assess those charities qualifications.
We would all like to believe that we make wise choices with our charity dollars, giving to organizations that conduct their business honorably, keep their administrative and fundraising expenses to a minimum, actually provide the services they claim and provide a measure of their outcomes. Clearly, those few organizations that are fraudulent in nature do not meet these tests and must be identified and closed promptly. Within the past year, for example, we learned that less than 2 percent of the $300 million collected by Allied Veterans of the World, Inc. benefited veterans; the remainder was spent by the leaders of this Florida charity, including founder Johnny Duncan, on Maseratis and Ferraris or pocketed.
More recently, a Cleveland court convicted John Donald Cody, a Harvard-trained lawyer aka Bobby Thompson, for racketeering, theft, money laundering and identity theft; he was accused of masterminding a $100 million fraud under the guise of helping Navy veterans.
Of more concern than the occasional fraud are those legitimate organizations that command the bulk of our charitable dollars and the extent to which those dollars are turned into support and services for veterans and their families. The Wounded Warrior Project is a case in point. It is a BBB-accredited charity and a listed recipient of Combined Federal Campaign dollars. It advertises widely, with celebrity endorsers and service member and family testimonials. Yet Guidestar, an independent organization that compares charities, assigns WWP a score of 54.39 out of 80. By comparison, the Navy SEAL Foundation-VA scored 68.76 out of 80.
Charity Watch assigned WWP a grade of F until last year when the grade was raised to C, the minimum for an organization worthy of a donation. Why? In 2012, WWP reportedly had income of $155 million, of which approximately $5.5 million was granted to other organizations or individuals. The 10 top employees received compensation ranging from $150,000 to $333,000 annually. By reasonable calculation, 58 cents of every dollar donated to WWP is consumed by overhead.
This is not to single out this one highly visible organization, only to make the point that dollars should flow to deserving, well-run organizations. For example, Charity Watch gives an A grade to Armed Services YMCA of the USA, Fisher House Foundation, Homes for our Troops, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Military Family Association, Operation Homefront-N.O., Semper Fi/Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund and TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors).
There is a local organization based in Fuquay-Varina called Military Missions in Action with which colleagues of mine work. Their main mission is to do ramps or remodels that make houses more accessible to handicapped veterans. This organization has one paid administrative staff member and is powered by volunteers and donated materials. Of donations received, 98 cents of every dollar goes to services. The Military and Veteran Resource Coalition, a committee of the Cope Foundation, also provides for the needs of local military and veteran families; all donations go directly to meeting these needs.
This is not to endorse these organizations over many other fine organizations locally and nationally, only to say that there are those that are careful stewards of our donated dollars.
We can all be informed donors! We can make certain that our money is going to reputable organizations. And we can insist on having sufficient information to document that those organizations are putting our money to good use that they are truly supporting our troops!
Col. Herb Segal, M.D., is a retired Army physician. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the membership of the Triangle Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) of which he is a past president.