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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....