Nothing says public servant like driving a Rolls Royce, right? Thomas Burch works as both the deputy director for the VA’s Office of General Counsel and as CEO of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, an organization that has collected more than $29 million over a four-year period. Less than 2% of those funds ended up directly benefiting veterans and their causes, CNN’s Drew Griffin and Jake Tapper reported last night, and NVVF got a “zero stars” rating from 2010 to 2014, which it still has to this day.
So where did the money go? More of it went to travel expenses than it did to veterans, at least in 2014, and most of it went to professional fundraisers and telemarketers:
But look a little closer on those same filings and you can see that nearly all of those donations have been cycled back to telemarketers, leaving less than 2 percent for actual veterans and veterans’ charitable causes. …
The charity’s most recently filed tax return, for 2014, lists a catalogue of expenses paid for by donations: including $133,000 for travel, $21,000 for unnamed “awards”, $70,000 for a category described as “other expenses” and even a little more than $8,000 for parking. …
According to the charity’s tax filings, though, it accounted for about $122,000 in cash donations to veterans, out of more than $8.5 million raised in donations in 2014. That is less than 2% of the charities cash donations being used to support veterans and their families.
The VA’s Inspector General is now reviewing Burch’s work at both the VA and the charity, Griffin has been told, which might seem like a big deal. That is, it would be a big deal if it wasn’t at an agency where convictions for armed robbery aren’t grounds for dismissal. As it is, though, the worst that will befall Burch would likely be a directive to shut down the NVVF, which will hurt all of those poverty-stricken professional fundraisers and telemarketers. Unless, that is, the IG finds some sort of connection between Burch and the NVVF and those fundraising services that go beyond the client-vendor relationship, such as ownership interests.
Over the years, I’ve learned to never donate over the phone to any organization, nor through unsolicited mailers either. If one wants to donate to an organization for a specific purpose — and veterans’ care is a noble purpose indeed — then one should carefully research the charities in that field and find those that most directly benefit veterans, rather than the people connected to the charity itself. Charity Navigator can help with that research, but there are other ways to check as well. That way, one can feel confident that their donations actually help those they intend, rather than those who help themselves.