'Charity' has little help for veterans
Author(s): Margaret Bernstein, Mike Scott, Sarah Jane Tribble Plain Dealer reporters Date: March 2, 2009 Section: Metro
Whatever happened to the Disabled Veterans Associations, headquartered in Parma Heights, which was sued in 2001 for falsely claiming to help veterans? Since 2001, it has continued to collect millions from people who don't realize how little of their donation actually goes to veterans. However, a recent settlement reached with the Ohio attorney general's office may have forced the charity to change its practices.
Disabled Veterans Associations has been investigated in several states since 2001 and slapped with fines. Yet it continued to pour most of its money right back into its fund-raising operation until at least 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available.
Of the $9 million it raised in 2007, only $216,848 went to programs for disabled servicemen, netting the nonprofit a rating of zero stars from Charity Navigator, an online guide to nonprofits.
"It's just horrible," said Sandra Miniutti, Charity Navigator's spokeswoman. "We see this a lot with veterans' issues. These bogus groups do exist.
"They're able to capitalize on people's goodwill."
Following the money in this case has been challenging. The Ohio attorney general's office said its investigation focused on the charity's expensive relationship with its hired fund-raiser, New Jersey-based Civic Development Group, which for years pocketed nearly all the money it raised for Disabled Veterans Associations.
On Feb. 6, state lawyers reached an agreement with Civic Development Group that requires the company's telemarketers to stop representing themselves as employees of charities they're raising money for. The fund-raiser also was fined $35,000.
Ted Hart, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said he has heard the disabled veterans' group has cut its ties with Civic Development Group. "I don't know whether they're doing any fund raising now," he said.
Yet the Parma Heights charity still maintains a Web site and appears to be in business. Executive Director Pamela Seman did not return calls last week seeking comment. The charity's 2007 records show she earned $97,000 as its chief officer.
Hank Thierry, a 58-year-old Maryland veteran who has complained about the charity's fund-raising practices to various authorities, scoffed at the Ohio fine and called it "chump change." He said the discredited veterans group always bounces back.
"Big deal. They'll do this all day long for $35,000," said Thierry. "In the meantime, $9 million has been skimmed away from programs that would help disabled veterans," he added, vowing to keep working to shut Disabled Veterans Associations down.
He said it's likely that many people confuse the group with the similarly named Disabled American Veterans, which is highly rated for its efficient use of donations but doesn't pull in as much money as the Parma Heights outfit does.
Hart said state law does not regulate what percentage of donations actually goes to charity, and he urged consumers to question solicitors on the subject before they donate.
– Margaret Bernstein
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
They are a clear rip off of the legitimate and outstanding DAV (Disable American Veterans) who give 97% of their donations to Veterans.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Take away their 501(c)3 non-profit status as they are clearly in the business of making money on fundraising (98%) in the name of Veterans.