Don’t be Duped by Charitable Organizations for Veterans

It seems like every year we have a major scandal involving a charitable organization that claims to support Veterans.  Last year, the largest Veteran charitable organization, the Wounded Warriors Project (“WWP”), came under scrutiny after it was discovered that a significant percentage of funds raised by WWP served as compensation or incentives for the WWP staff rather than being channeled into programs that truly benefit Veterans or their loved ones.

IAVA  -  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

WWP was not the first Veteran charitable organization to show its feet of clay, but now the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (“IAVA”) is coming under intense public scrutiny.  Jonah Bennett, a reporter for the Daily Caller, notes the following:

Former employees of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one of the largest veterans’ advocacy organizations in the country, allege that the charity’s CEO has abused staff and pressured employees to lie about grant funds and project success to mislead donors.

Seven former employees of IAVA spoke to The Daily Caller News Foundation and said among other things that CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an Army first lieutenant, has fostered an environment that puts pressure on employees to aggressively fiddle with numbers so that grant finances and grant project goals can be listed as complete.

Needless to say, CEO Paul Rieckhoff has “denied allegations that he had pressured the staff to misuse grant money and mislead donors.”   Nevertheless, it represents yet another blemish on fund-raising efforts by charitable organizations that claim to support Veterans.

Problems within the IAVA date back several years when a 2014 letter from a former employee to the IAVA Board “asks for Rieckhoff to step down as CEO, citing a long history of poor relations with donors, high staff turnover and misspending grant funds.”   Calls by the Daily Caller to “Rieckhoff’s personal cell phone went unanswered.”

 

While it is difficult to know which – if any – of the allegations by former employees of IAVA are true, hints of discontent within the organization have been widely known for several years.  Whether these allegations are true or not,  the repercussions will likely be severe for both IAVA and many other charitable organizations focused on supporting Veterans.

Sadly, many charitable organizations that seek to support Veterans are strapped for cash to fund even the smallest programs.  Well-intentioned efforts fail because the principals simply don’t have the experience or capabilities to raise funds for Veteran programs.  Others fail because they simply don’t have the “right” infrastructure to attract charitable funding.

With large organizations like IAVA and the WWP, the pursuit of funding tragically becomes far more important than the causes they support.  This may well be an over-generalization, but  funding becomes critical to support the many deserving Veteran programs that require an almost constant supply of fresh financial resources.

It is not surprising that the leadership of so many well-meaning Veteran organizations gets trapped by the dilemma of balancing the needs of Veterans and their ongoing fund-raising efforts.   As we have seen in the case of WWP and now IAVA (apparently), the lure of attracting additional resources appears to outweigh the needs of Veterans they claim to support.

What to Look for in a Veteran Charitable Organization

There are no hard and fast rules for determining which charitable organization(s) is/are most effective in meeting the needs of Veterans, but there are certainly a few common themes:

- The integrity of the Administrators and Board Members;
– Projects clearly segregated for direct contributions by donors;
– Clear (and auditable) guidelines on how contributions will be allocated;
– Annual audit reports and regular project updates to donors to let them know how funds are being deployed;
– Independent advisory board consisting of charitable organizations to supervise and administer grants.

Tell-tale Signs of Abuse in Veteran Charitable Organizations

It is difficult to generalize on the “signs of abuse” within a charitable organization, but if it looks “too good to be true” the program is probably a sham.   Found below are just a few tell-tale signs that the “hype” is greater than “real” programs to support Veterans:

- Public outings with Veterans (baseball games or other sporting events) is a sure sign that   it is a staged PR event with little or no lasting benefit to the Veteran or his/her family;
– Lack of distinction between general purpose funding ($19 a month, for instance) and funding for specific identifiable programs for Veterans (i.e. Hyperbaric Oxygen, PTSD research, defined occupational training program, etc.);
– Does the charitable website intelligently focus on specific Veteran support programs or does it focus instead on pulling the donor’s heartstrings?
– Who are the Board Members and do written guidelines of corporate governance exist?
– Are audited financial statements and charitable organization credentials easily found on the website?

SFTT takes no great pleasure in commenting on problems of a prominent Veteran charitable organization, but if these allegations ring true, it gravely affects the funding of all organizations that seek to support our brave Veterans.

SFTT News: Week of Feb 24, 2017

Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Federal Hiring Freeze Confuses Military Parents
On Wednesday, the base commander informed parents that all part-day Child and Youth Services (CYS) programs at the garrison would end March 1 because they couldn’t replenish employees. That night, the Pentagon granted exemptions from the freeze, according to a Defense Department spokesman. But the exemptions come with disruptions. “This closure is a result of staff shortages due to the Federal Hiring Freeze,” said the Wiesbaden memo from Col. Todd J. Fish. “This hiring freeze prevents CYS from replacing staff who depart for any reason to include normal rotation.”  Read more . . .

Grow the Military the Smart Way
There are real demands for resources across the military, and many personnel and readiness challenges that need fundamental fixes — indeed, these challenges would be masked or even exacerbated by the infusion of more money, people, and platforms. The political debate is focused on quantity but more uniformed personnel is not a solution in and of itself, and lack of money isn’t the only obstacle to smart growth. Troop numbers make for easy talking points, but advocates for rebuilding the military must be able to explain why, what choices come first, and how to sustain it over time.  Update to personnel and readiness practice ought to come as part of this investment — otherwise, we could end up with a large force that isn’t formed to tackle America’s real threats, and undercut needed reforms.  Read more . . .

VA to Scrap Veteran Applications?
A whistleblower in the Atlanta office of the Department of Veterans Affairs warned President Trump on Tuesday that the VA is preparing to throw out hundreds of thousands of benefit applications due to an error the VA itself made during the Obama administration. Scott Davis, a well-known whistleblower who has testified before Congress, wrote an open letter to Trump saying that more than 500,000 of these applications might be scuttled in March unless he intervenes. “I am sending this whistleblower disclosure to your office due to the urgent need for executive intervention,” he wrote. “VA is planning on declaring over 500,000 Veteran applications for VA health care as incomplete and abandoned at the end of March 2017.”  Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

Dr. David Shulkin Pledges to Rid VA of Abuse
Dr. David Shulkin used his first public statement as the new Veterans Affairs Department secretary on Thursday to pledge management reforms that would remove the VA from a government agency’s “high risk list” for waste, fraud and abuse. “We will implement a plan that directly addresses these risks by building on the progress we have already made,” Shulkin said in response to a Government Accountability Office report naming the VA as a “high risk” agency in its treatment of veterans, handling of claims and efforts to lower wait times.  Read more . . .

Opioid Addiction a Problem for Many Veterans
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said veterans are 10 times more likely to abuse opioids than the civilian population, which likely drives Fayetteville’s numbers up. Jacksonville, another military city in North Carolina, ranks 12th on Castlight’s list of worst locales for opioid abuse. While the military is taking steps now to attack addiction, many veterans question why the military took so long to address a problem the veterans say it created.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Clinical Trial for Marijuana to Treat PTSD
The first participant in a clinical trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of smoking marijuana to treat PTSD in veterans was given cannabis on Monday, according to the organization conducting the study.  The study is the first such trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of using marijuana to manage symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in U.S. veterans, officials with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies said in a release on Tuesday.  MAPS is a California-based non-profit research organization focused on “the careful uses” of marijuana, according to its website. The study is funded by a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

Partner Support Resources for Veterans with PTSD

While Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) primarily focuses on making sure Veterans with PTSD receive the therapy and support they deserve, we would be remiss in not acknowledging that Veteran families also suffer grievously from the “silent wounds of war.”

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

Indeed,  social media is inundated with heart-wrenching stories of partners of Veterans seeking advice and support of other Veteran partners on coping with the day-to-day problems of Veterans with PTSD and TBI.   In many cases, these partners (primarily wives) have benefitted from support groups in which they exchange advice and provide comfort to others as their husbands combat the demons of PTSD.

In fact, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (“the VA”) has a “caregiver support line for partners of Veterans with PTSD.    That caregiver support line is 1-855-260-3274.

Indeed, the VA provides some useful advice on the advantages of joining a “peer support group” and how to locate them:

Joining a peer support group can help you to feel better in any number of ways, such as:

- Knowing that others are going through something similar

- Learning tips on how to handle day-to-day challenges

- Meeting new friends or connecting to others who understand you

- Learning how to talk about things that bother you or how to ask for help

- Learning to trust other people

- Hearing about helpful new perspectives from others

Peer support groups can be an important part of dealing with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective treatment for PTSD. If you have problems after a trauma that last more than a short time, you should get professional help.

Aside from the VA recommendations, many other independent organizations have sprung up to support partners who feel the need to exchange ideas and support one another during a particularly difficult period in their relationship.

Found below in no particular order are online support resources that may help provide a peer support forum to exchange ideas and advice:

Wives of PTSD Vets (Facebook Page)

A useful Facebook Page of engaged partners who seek to provide useful resources to others on helping wives of military Veterans with PTSD

Hidden Heroes

Established by Senator Elizabeth Dole, Hidden Heroes has as its mission to:

- Raise awareness of the issues military caregivers confront every day

- Inspire individuals, businesses, communities, and civic, faith and government leaders to take action in supporting military caregivers in their communities

- Establish a national registry, encouraging military caregivers to register at HiddenHeroes.org to better connect them to helpful resources and support

Family of a Vet

A practical guide, gleaned from contributions by its many members, on how to cope with PTSD and TBI.  More practical and common sense advice than clinical evidence, but certainly a recommended resource for those who require guidance and a helping hand.

PTSD Support Group

Essentially, a forum to exchange ideas and vent.  Clearinghouse for frustrations that emanate from being a caregiver for a Veteran coping with PTSD

Army Reservist Wife (Blog)

Authentic – pulls no punches – blog featuring genuine stories of how caregivers cope with the difficulties of sustaining a relationship with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

While there are many other notable online resources, local support groups that meet in person are probably far more effective than online advice.  Most base facilities provide programs for spouses of active duty personnel.

Veterans discharged from the military or reservists may find active support groups at religious centers or outreach programs supported by local community activists or charitable organizations.

Veterans suffering from PTSD and/or TBI value companionship.  While it may seem difficult to provide them the support they are seeking, it is a battle worth fighting valiantly.  Support groups may well provide the necessary resources one needs to persevere.

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