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Saturday, November 21, 2009

The "Veterans Support Organization"?



Is it a scam or a legitimate charity organization? A reader alerted this blog that representatives of "Veterans Support Organization" were soliciting money right in front of Associated Supermarket. According to a photocopied flyer that was being handed out, for $5 you could feed a veteran on Thanksgiving, for $10 on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Scams for charity organizations are frequent during holiday times, and suspicions were raised when another blog reader asked to see VA identification from the gentleman soliciting the money (who was dressed in camouflage attire available in many stores in New York and who claimed to be a twenty year vet with service in Desert Storm--Airborne, too!). Said gentlemen refused, stating that he is not allowed to show his VA identification, which is, plain and simple, bullshit.

I went over to witness what was happening, and indeed the guy (I only saw a guy, but apparently there was an older woman with him earlier) was doing a very vocal charity pitch to anyone passing by or going into Associated. He was standing maybe a foot or two away from the entrance to the supermarket. When I was there, several Associated customers were putting their bills into one of two large Veterans Support Organization plastic buckets. In between the buckets was a folder with copies of papers that were meant to prove that the organization is legit.

After doing some research, yes, the organization is legit and non-profit, though it's had some run-ins with veterans organizations connected with the government. According to online reports, the Veterans Support Organization gives only a percentage of its take to veterans, the rest is divided among the workers, both the street solicitors and those higher up in the organization. Veterans Support Organization began in Florida in 2001, and just recently has set up headquarters in New York. Its NY website is here.

It's too bad that veterans organizations that give 100% (or close to it) of their charity haul to veterans are so underwhelming represented on the street. The success of the VSO will probably mean that these organizations will get less donations than before--but if it takes a more aggressive push for people to give, then perhaps the VSO shouldn't be faulted. Though veterans work for the organization, the street solicitors do not have to be veterans, which may explain why the aforementioned gentleman refused to show his VA ID.

Speaking of veterans--wouldn't it be good of Tishman Speyer to go back to some Stuy Town basics and begin offering veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan affordable housing in this complex? Just a small percentage of the available apartments it has here?

Update: A bit more on the Veterans Support Organization, operating in Cape Cod during the summer....

EAST FALMOUTH — Wal-Mart shoppers on Friday donated nearly $1,500 in just a few hours to two men, dressed in military garb, who were supposedly raising money to help local veterans. Those men, members of the Veterans Support Organization, may have been dressed like veterans — but they have never served in any of the armed forces, police said.

And with administrative offices in Rhode Island and Florida, the company's chief operating officer Richard VanHouten has admitted none of the donations go directly toward helping veterans on Cape Cod.

While the VSO is a registered nonprofit in this state, according to the state Attorney General's Office, Falmouth Veterans Agent Jay Hill said that legal or not, "something stinks."


Read more here.

And then there's this, from WPTV in Florida:

STUART, FL -- You may have seen the men wearing camouflage and dog tags, carrying buckets and American flags on street corners.

They're drumming up donations for a non-profit group called "Veterans Support Organization, Inc."

The group purports to raise the cash for disabled and homeless vets, by giving money directly to local VA hospitals.

But a look at the group's financial statements shows a large percentage of the money raised goes to administrative and fund raising costs.

According to the group's 2006-2007 financial statement, 63% of its revenues go to administrative and fund raising costs. That leaves just 37% for the vets. The percentage improved to closer to 50-50 in 2007-2008.

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper columnist Geoff Oldfather started looking into the group 5 months ago when local vets started asking questions about where the money was going.

He learned that some of the group's employees, including a former director, have criminal records.

"There’s just a lot of questions about who they employ how they are going about collecting money and keep in mind it’s all cash and how do you track all of that cash?" asks Oldfather.

Richard VanHouten, director of Veterans Service Organization, admits he has some employees who have criminal pasts, but says he wants to give everyone a chance.

With regard to the high percentage of fundraising costs, he says that was because his group was "young and learning." He says the costs are going down considerably. He insists his group is a major donor to the VA hospital in Palm Beach County.

We placed a call to the VA hospital, but have not yet heard back from officials there.


And here's a very positive view of the VSO.

One more report: Ex-cons collecting money for the VSO.

Update 12/16/09: A halt to the activities of the UHO in New York. Some say the VSO resembles the UHO....

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me an awful lot like the UHO (United Homeless Organization). That's basically a scam where they sell the right to people to use their name on a bottle for a daily charge. Anything they collect, they keep.

http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/i-new-york/34671/united-homeless-organization

According to one article I found, the VSO pays a commission to its street collectors. Seems kind of sketchy to me--at best>

http://www.mysuncoast.com/Global/story.asp?S=10765299

Bottom line (IMO), there are no shortage of ways to support veterans, disabled or otherwise, without handing over cash to some guy in the street.

Anonymous said...

That sidewalk in front of Associated is partially private property. Tishman (at a minimum) would have the right to ask them to stand at the curb, and not block the entrance to the supermarket as they're now doing. Interesting that they get to keep 25% of whatever they collect. Some charity (their own pockets).

Anonymous said...

The guy who was collecting money on Saturday looked more like an ex-con than ex-Airborne. LOL.

Anonymous said...

How do you know Tishman didn't put the guy there and is getting a cut?!?

Stuy Town Reporter said...

This operation was definitely not Tishman Speyer, as bad as TS is!

Anonymous said...

I simply put the possibility out there for consideration...until we run them out of town for good!

Anonymous said...

I note that today's NY Post reports the "shocking " news that the UHO is a scam and that Andrew Cuomo has filed a lawsuit against the organization for using the money (ostensibly being raised for the homeless )to fund the lifestyle of the UHO's leadership

TROLL TOLL said...

There's a story about the UHO in the NY Post today.

" UHO founder Stephen Riley and director Myra Walker take a big cut of the money to fund personal shopping sprees at the GameStop, Home Shopping Network, Bed Bath & Beyond and P.C. Richard, as well as their monthly cable bills, legal papers charge.

Riley, a beefy 60-year-old, shamelessly used the donated dollars -- which are supposed to be used to "feed the homeless" -- to pay his Weight Watchers bills."

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/suit_put_cork_in_it_jugheads_GvF3qaHCib8Xh5AY86i68O

Anonymous said...

The UHO is a scam?!?

Shocking!

Shocking!!!

Anonymous said...

I checked out VSO after making a donation. They actually took me to a 8,000 sq ft center for vets they are building in mt. vernon, NY. Although it was not fimnished it was quite impressive. I also called the VA Volunteer Services Division in Florida and New York and verified they gave a lot of money to those program. After that I spoke with their CPAS in Rhole Island and he sent me a copy of the recent independent audited statements showing that they gave 67.5% of every dollar raised to veterans programs. I know this is not as impresive as the Salvation Army who give 87% but I would rather have 65% of my dollar go to vets than 87% go to housing criminals and drug addicts.

Anonymous said...

So tell me...what is your cut for writing that bogus post?!?

Please.

This is clearly a scam.

Anonymous said...

I have been following this group for years and I am impressed with what this group has acomplished They have given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to veterans through the VA hospitals with grants.I have seen their national veterans shelter in FLORIDA It is called Veterans new life haven,(954)537-3001 ext 2. I have spoken to some of the veterans that live in VNLH and it is amazing how this group has changed the lives of veterans one vet at a time.VSO has veterans and non veterans on work programs raising money to help other veterans in need.This is perfect, not only does the raising of money in front of stores help the person doing the canning ,but it helps the veterans as well.One of the non veterans raising money for the group said to me ,you dont have to have cancer to raise money to help people with cancer,and it made me think ,there no law that said you have to be a veteran to help veterans.I have talked to the president of VSO,and he sent me a copy of the certified public audit the group just had done,and 67.5%of each dollar went to help veterans in 2008, they are working on 2009 now.It was a pleasure talking to Richard vanhouten. If you want to know the truth about the group,dont belive what you read give him a call at (954) 790 -1846

Stuy Town Reporter said...

There is no law against non-vets helping vets, but the guys on the street are dressed as if they were vets, which, apparently, many of them are not. So there's a wrong impression given, purposefully, right at the start.

I'm not claiming that the VSO is a scam, however. As I wrote initially, I actually have no problem with the street solicitors getting a percentage of the take, because it seems they need it, while the other percentage of the take, apparently a more significant one too, does go to vets.

Anonymous said...

You may not have a problem with the commission system but I do.

This is clearly an 'inefficient' way of supporting vets. And by saying 'inefficient,' I am being polite.

You would be better off giving your dollar to one of the more efficient, legitimate charities than to one of these guys in the street.

Alternately, you could just send them fifty cents and keep the commission for yourself.

Frankly, I'm surprised and skeptical about all of this 'debate' over this issue and this organization. Wasteful, inefficient charities tend to benefit the people that manage them the most, and their stated cause, the least.

You want to give to a worth cause so that more of your hared earned dollars get to their intended beneficiaries? Have a look here: http://www.charitynavigator.org/ Charity Navigator is a well-respected source for unbiased information about charitable organizations.

All of you folks here that claim to be doing all kinds of research into the VSO and who are so impressed, could easily find a better organization on that site that would be doing more to help the cause you claim to champion.

Nuff said?!?

Anonymous said...

I'm an Honorable discharged Vet, and I ran into these guys ( VSO ) at the Stop and shop in Hicksville, NY and i asked one of the guys what branch did they served. He said he was a 20 year vet from the Air Force; then i asked "can i see your ID", and he refused to show me one. I said, here's mine, where's yours. Every veteran has an ID, but he laughed and ignored my questions. Also, they were very unprofessional. I noticed how they were smoking cigars infront of the people that were donating, and they were dressed very messy, uniforms not pressed or clean and that gives a bad image of the military. Officials at the VA on Long island have never heard of the VSO ,and other GOOD not for profit organizations have never heard of these guys either. I know there are two or three good not for profits organizations on Long Island that give to the VA, DAV, etc ,but the VSO is a disgrace because Non veterans are representing us. This needs to stop immediately. They should go back to florida and stay there. There should be an investigation against the Veterans Support Organization, or at least send them back to FLORIDA!!

Anonymous said...

That's what I did, too. Being a vet myself, I always carry my VA card with me. After the VSO person said he was a twenty-year vet, I asked him if I could see his VA card and he gave me some nonsense that he was not supposed to show it. I said I was a vet, and then showed him my card, saying I had no problem about showing it, but that made zero impression on him. He ignored me thereafter. Though he was dressed in fatigues (which I could tell right away were not military issue), he looked and presented himself more like a con (convict and con-artist).

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Money handed over to these guys is money handed over to these guys. It's not going to the people that deserve it or to the people they claim it is headed for.

Doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that people who collect money in the street probably can't be trusted to deliver on their claims.

Lots of ways to help Vets. VSO probably isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

The "Veterans Support Organization" is such a ripoff. These guys are no good, and I agree with all of you that they look like- Ex-cons, rather than Soldiers. I ran into them at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. One of the guys was bragging about his time in the service, and how he was a hero by saving two soldiers during his time of war , but when it came to show his ID to me; He refused. He said he lost it a month ago. I started to ask him questions that only us "SOLDIERS" would know. And guess what guys, he didnt know anything, he choked!!!Obviously, these guys pretend to be soldiers and get paid for doing the fundraising. The Veterans Support Organization seems very "FISHY". Someone please investigate them. New York Veterans don't want them here, we dont need them, we never asked for them.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: you never give cash to "charities" in the street.

Anyone that can't cash a check is probably not legit. Not that the ability to cash a check is a litmus test but it sure is a start.

Anonymous said...

I WAS IN THE MALL IN WESTCHESTER AND MADE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE VSO., I AM RETIRED USN-USNR WITH 22 YEARS OF SERVICE AND ALSO A RETIRED CORRECTION OFFICER. AT FIRST I THOUGHT THESE GUYS WERE LEGIT,BUT THEIR BDUS LOOKED LIKE THEY CAME FROM A CATALOG AND THEY HAD NO NAME TAGS ON THEIR UNIFORMS AND THEIR IDS LOOKED PHONY. I THINK ITS A BIG SCAM

Anonymous said...

All you haters out there ,why don't you get up off your coach potato @$$ and you go help some homeless veterans yourself. The VSO shouldn't have to do this, the rotten, selfish gov't should be. Did you ever stop and think for one minute that someone's son, dad, gradfather,brother,mother sister, daughter, etc. have served/serving this country and put their lives on the line for our country and for what? To come back to our country and get treated like dog crap. (this goes way back to Vietnam and thensome) That's a slap in the face. No wonder they start using any substance they can can get. These veterans can't even get their teeth looked at because the gov't don't pay for it at all!!
Don't you think they deserve more since we are sitting here enjoying our great life having all the freedom we can handle.
As for the other veterans organizations such as VFW, etc. they are a dying breed. Hundreds of the VFW posts have closed down across the US. I can give you an inside FYI on the VFW and other veterans groups, they only have to make the donation monies that they receive for a specific fundraiser 100%, but other than that they have rent, electric and many other operational/overhead/administrativecosts. (right from a DAV commander) So where are you going with that??
What has the local VFW Posts or DAV Chapters done for our homeless veterans lately? Let's see, get them drunk at their fine bars?? Then send them off to drive home, if they can even find their car and try and make it home..
I know because my gradfather was a head and life time member of a VFW Post for 30+ yrs and he was
one that fancied their bar until he almost got killed because the VFW members weren't smart enough to call a cab, family member or drive him home safely themselves.
Everyone needs to get up with the times and be open minded because nothing is 100%.
Regarding the non-veterans, it would be nice to have all veterans in their organization but have you stopped to think they many people have tried to get into the military but due to medical reasons, etc they were unable to enlist, so this is the way they can give back to our country by helping out veterans that are left in the dust.
Another FYI I am good friends with the a fireman that collect with their MDA boot drive and guess what?? He's not a fireman, never was or plans to be, just helping out for a cause he believes in.
Now what....
As for the uniforms they should be presentable and have proper ID.
As for proving there were a veteran to a person on the street, they don't have to but I bet if you call the VSO phone #'s then they would have that information. Remember the good 'ole HIPPAA ACT??
I have done alot of research on the VSO as a whole and they have been investigated by the proper officials so if there a problem they wouldn't be out there and they are still helping veterans and thats what some of us forget..its about veterans..making life better for those that have served!!
God Bless..

Anonymous said...

TO THE ABOVE POST, EXACTLY THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION DOESNT HAVE TO FUNDRAISE HERE IN NEW YORK SO LEAVE NEW YORK AND LONG ISLAND AND GO BACK TO FLORIDA. WE VETERANS HAVE CALLED FLORIDA TV STATIONS, SUNCOASTNEWS, NEWSPAPERS, TALKED TO DAV OFFICIALS IN FLORIDA. THEY ALL CONSIDER YOU GUYS A BIG HUGE SCAM!!!!!!!!!!
THE VFW, AMERICAN LEGION, DAV ,VETSHELP, AND MANY OTHER GOOD, LEGIT NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS AROUND NEW YORK AND LONG ISLAND ARE HERE FOR VETERANS. WE DON'T NEED THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION. YOU GUYS ARE A SCAM.THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION HIRES CRIMINALS, NON-VETERANS. THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION KEEPS(POCKETS) 25 PERCENT OF WHAT THE COMMUNITY DONATES, PLUS GAS, AND FOOD EXPENSES. THEY WEAR UNIFORMS, WHICH IS SO WRONG BECAUSE HALF OF THEM HAVE NEVER SERVED. THERE ARE MANY MORE THINGS TO SAY BUT I DONT HAVE A WEEK TO TYPE! PEOPLE IN COUNTIES AROUND NEW YORK AND LONG ISLAND PLEASE GOOGLE THEM AND YOU WILL FIND OUT THE TRUTH. ALSO, SUPERMARKETS, MALLS IN NEW YORK/ LONG ISLAND IF YOU SEE THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION IN OR AROUND YOUR STORE KICK THEM OUT!!! THEY ARE NO GOOD, THEY LIE THE PUBLIC,THEY ONLY CARE FOR THEMSELVES AND NOT THE VETERANS. THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION SHOULD BE ASHAMED.

Anonymous said...

Reply to the rant posted on Jan. 7:

Not sure what your point is but you fail to address the serious concerns raised about the VSO.

Next time, throw in a fact or two that supports your point of view. Whatever that might be...

Anonymous said...

Look at the purpose of the corporation, item 6; it says nothing about veterans although all of their videos insinuate they exist to support veterans:

http://ucc.state.ri.us/CORP_DRIVE1/2009/0508/000000000/1427/200945651110_1.pdf

See how a non-commercial TV station, School Board of Broward County's TV station (FL), has been duped; notice the professional way the solicitors are dressed insinuating they are veterans; listen to the president admitting that the collectors are semi-employees, probably listed as sub-contractors for the IRS; they are paid panhandlers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcZsT1AUVB4

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Valor_Act_of_2005

should be expanded to include this kind of activity.

Anonymous said...

It's crazy how ignorant people can be. You hvae no heart for these people trying to help others. I'm sure if you were in their position you would have another veiw. This organization is at least trying to give back, more than what most of you can say. They actually do help the homeless vets. I would like to see some of you ignorant souls out in front of stores and ask others to help you and fellow vets in need to just be turned down by rich people who won't spare a dime. At least this organization wants to help those less fortunate vets and give them opportunities that many of have such easy access to.

Anonymous said...

The Veterans Support Organization has just been OK'd by the Florida Better business bureau:
http://www.seflorida.bbb.org/Business-Report/The-Veterans-Support-Organization-Inc-92015211
Log on to their web site and complain requesting that they not solicit funds wearing their fake uniforms.

Sober Living at Care Helps said...

I checked out VSO in person when in Fla, they have a 150 bed shelter for vets in Ft. Lauderdale, and they fund it. Everyone there was a disabled vet who had been homeless. I was invited to they opening of a veterans center at 31 south street, in mt. vernon, ny 10550 on march 2, 2010 at 1:00. They said all interested people were invited. I saw no bars or drunks as I see at my lodge. The place in fla was a sober facility and I heard some heartbreaking tales. I think they should not have to give collectors so much, but they are helping more than the two other groups I belong.

Anonymous said...

Their impersonation of veterans while panhandling must be very successful. They have just ordered a 2,500 lb safe from California to store all that untraceable cash:

http://www.uship.com/shipment/Mosler-vault/633441699/

Anonymous said...

THE VETERANS SUPPORT ORGANIZATION IS A SCAM. PLEASE COPY AND PASTE THE VIDEO BELOW, AND READ THE ARTICLE. THEY ARE LIARS, MANIPULATORS, DISHONEST PEOPLE. CALL YOUR LOCAL POLITICIANS, LEGISLATORS, CONGRESSMAN AND INVESTIGATE THEM. THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW!!!!!!!!

http://www.newschannel5.com/Global/story.asp?S=12039178


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - State regulators are taking a hard look at a new charity in town. It's a group that claims it's out to help needy veterans.

That comes after NewsChannel 5 Investigates went undercover to find out what's really happening with the money that's given to the group. Our investigation discovered that your donations may not be going where you think they are.

A group calling itself the Veterans Support Organization is out collecting money in front of stores in the area.

The men who collect the money wear camouflage and combat books and tell people going in and out of the stores, "Twenty bucks will help get a homeless or needy veteran off the street."

Hank Edney explained that the money they collect goes to other organizations that provide direct help to veterans.

One of the men in fatigues said, "We can help get a homeless or needy veteran off the street and into our shelter. Our shelter will just be for veterans who are homeless. They're getting ready to open [it] in Madison in about three weeks."

So NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Edney, "Tell me about your plans to open a shelter here."

"Well, there are no plans at this time to open a shelter," said Edney.

We told him, "They told us you were opening a shelter in Madison."

"I'd really like to see that because there's been no mention of doing anything like that," replied Edney.

Another fundraiser said, "We're working with a couple of country stars. We just shot a video with one."

The video shot by singer Stephen Cochran was done for the VA, not the VSO.

"The VSO had nothing to do with this video, right?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"No," answered Edney.

The Veterans Support Organization's own Web site said the money collectors are not paid, that they're volunteering their time.

One of the fundraisers told us the same thing.

"Yes, I volunteer," said the fundraisers.

"So you're not getting paid for being out here?" we asked.

He replied, "No."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates then asked Edney, "Are all of the people out collecting money being compensated?"

"Yes, they are," admitted Edney.

He went on to explain that the people get to keep $.30 from every $1 they collect while Edney gets another 10 percent of the money.

"So what percentage of each dollar will go to these charities?" we asked.

"At least 65 percent," answered Edney.

According to the group's own financial statements, the VSO collected more than $2.5 million last year across the country, yet it only gave just over $400,000 of that to programs that help veterans. That's just 16 cents out of every dollar.

"They told you not to tell folks that you were soliciting money for the Fisher House?" we asked.

"Right," replied Edney.

Bob Ousley is the state director for the veterans group Rolling Thunder. He said of the VSO, "They're salesmen."

"You're dressed in fatigues and you're representing veterans, but you're not a veteran," said Ralph Land, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter.

"They say what they need to go get the dollars out of these people and put it in their car because that's their commission," said Ousley.

Anonymous said...

I work for VSO and I can tell you first hand that its a scam. However, what you aren't aware of are the inner workings of VSO.

1. Most of there recruits come from another organization - America Works. These recruits have to either be homeless (living in a shelter or one some type of welfare), if they come from America Works they are veterans who are hard on their luck and out of work. VSO promises to train you for future fundraising offering you 30% of the pot (that's split between two people so its really 15%)

2. There is NO training going on whatsoever. On your first day you get the fake speech by Janina Goren and from there you work with another trainee who shows you how to beg.

3. During your first three days you have to memorize a pack of lies about which organizations VSO gives too, how to deflect VFW and other legitimate organizations. If you can pass an oral test then you move from 25% of the take to 30% of the take.

4. You pay $40 for those cheap boots, $10 for the hat.

5. Every week they ask for $6 to clean your uniform. Of course an organization as cunning as this one probably expenses the drycleaning costs and pockets the $6

7. At no time are you asked for you address or ssn number so the money you collect can't possibly generate a 1099 at the end of the year.

14. The house in Scarsdale is rented and yet they charge those of us who have stayed their $150 a week for the privilege of not having accessible public transportation, not having a key to the house, sharing a room with another person, being asked to clean up after her kids and dogs, and basically being enslaved.

16. Both drive brand new hummers and they just bought their daughter a new mercedes, she's 16.

17. Yes they are a 501c3 but that's just so they can reap the benefits of the cash without paying federal income taxes.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a shame that people would post such comments about VSO as I've seen here. I can tell you that all the funding collected by VSO virtually goes to help veterans, with the exception of the direct earnings of what is less than 10% of the staff being non-veteran. These individuals may be wives or life-long friends of the owners and/or managers. These are people whom they know they can trust since they must deal with money. It's this way with about any type of operation. Consider the fact that even with the federal government, military wives are given merit points in the screening of applicants for federal government employments. Is there any difference? I don't think so.

Before making such implications regarding VSO based on what you read online or some media report, perhaps you might visit one of the local VSO chapter offices and speak with a manager. I think you will find them to be up front and sincere, as they have nothing to hide. You would change your thinking if you see the truth first hand.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame of such publicity to try discrediting the VSO, which originated from the "threat" of competion, the reason they didn't want them in their town. For anyone who questions the legitimacy, integrity, and sincerity of VSO, I suggest you visit one of their chapters. You will change your mind and see they are a truly wonderful organization who is helping the veterans.