Report: Little Given Back by 6 Veterans Charities

Six national vet groups are among a list of the top 50 worst charities in the U.S., according to The Tampa Bay Times.

The Tampa Bay Times compiled the rankings for an investigative reporting project published on Thursday. The charities were put on the list because only a small portion of their donations were used toward those in need. Charities provided as little as 2 percent back to the earnings they collected in some cases.

The vast majority of the roughly $1 billion contributed by Americans went to the corporations in the business of making the phone calls and collecting donations.

"[The] real beneficiaries are the charity founders themselves and the for-profit companies they pay to run boiler rooms that dial for dollars," the paper said in a statement about the project, for which its reporters reviewed thousands of charities and charted their finances going back a decade.

The veterans charities named in the report are the National Veterans Service Fund of Darien, Conn.; Vietnow National Headquarters of Rockford, Ill.; The Veterans Fund of Treverton, Penn. ; Veterans Assistance  Foundation of Tomah, Wis.; Circle of Friends for American Veterans of Falls Church, Va. ; and Our American Veterans of Fort Valley, Ga.

Altogether the charities brought in more than $130 million over the years they've operated, with the lion's share of the money going to the founders and the firms that solicit the contributions.

National Veterans Service Fund, for example, which is No. 8 on the list, pulled in $70.2 million. The charity paid the solicitors $36.9 million, but spent just $5.5 million in cash aid to those in need, the paper reports

Vietnow, a 20-year-old organization intended to help veterans and their families, raised about $18 million of which nearly $16 million went to the solicitors, about $2.2 million to the charity, and just over $527,000 in cash aid to individuals over that time, about $32,000 per year.

The Veterans Fund was founded 15 years ago as a way to raise money to bring entertainment to hospitalized veterans, according to the paper. In the last 10 years, the charity raised more than $15 million, but paid the fund-raising companies 82 cents for every dollar raised. About $1 million went toward salaries at the charity, including an annual salary of $40,000 to the owner. In the end, just 2 percent of the money raised went to charity's cause.

Veterans Assistance Foundation, according to the paper, does spend about one half of the $2.5 million a year it raises to provide temporary housing and job training vets. But it ends up on the list because while it gets half of its revenue through a federal government grant, it has also shelled out $11 million to for-profit solicitation companies over the last 10 years.

Circle of Friends began in 1993 as a charity providing shelter for some 70 veterans, but the paper says the founder went into a different direction by focusing raising awareness about homeless veterans rather than actually housing them. It has raised nearly $8 million over the years, paying $5.7 million to solicitors, with $2.7 going into the charity and $510,000 in cash aid to the veterans.

Our American Veterans raised about $2.6 million to help needy vets between 2003 and 2009, paying $2.3 million to the solicitors, about $318,000 to the charity itself, and just over $60,000 in cash aid to those veterans, the paper reports.

In 2009, while faced with lawsuits by two states and hit with more than $100,000 in penalties, founder Sydney Young shut down Our American Veterans only to set up a new charity, American's Helping Veterans Corp., operating from the same address in Georgia.

Like Young's previous charity, American's Helping Veterans Corps claimed it would be raising money for veterans, but of the $420,000 the Tampa paper found it raked in during 2010, 80 cents of each dollar went to solicitors, while Young and his wife were paid a combined $31,000.

The paper said it mailed a certified letter to the address listed on the charity's most recent tax filing, but that it was returned undeliverable, and the phone number listed on the IRS documents was disconnected.

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