FRONT AND CENTER: DONORS BEWARE

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By Rick Rogers, Host of Front & Center: Military Talk Radio

August 23, 2012 (San Diego)--Charities rattling their cups for veterans and troop programs in Southern California have grown to epic numbers in recent years.

I bet San Diego County charities have grown tenfold since 2008.

At least I think they have.

Fact is, I don’t know. I don’t know how many there are or what they all do, let alone what happens to all the money they collect.

Unfortunately no one else knows either.

 

This proliferation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. San Diego County is home to the largest military population in the county and likewise the most Iraq and Afghanistan veterans anywhere.

That a robust, non-profit community exists here to minister to their needs makes perfect sense.

Most non-profits are run by honest, if sometimes paperwork-challenged, individuals. Most of the time, they aren’t crooks so much as lousy bookkeepers.

But not all are legit.

In Ohio, a man calling himself Bobby Thompson sits in jail, alleged to have swindled between $30 million and $100 million nationwide since 2002 through a scam charity named “U.S. Navy Veterans Association.”

He’s charged with identity fraud, engaging in corrupt activity, complicity to aggravated theft, money laundering and tampering with records.

Then there is the “Disabled Veterans National Foundation” based in Washington, D.C.

The charity earned an “F” from a charity monitoring agency for blowing most of the $56 million it raised on marketing instead of veteran services.

Closer to home, there is the charity “Help Hospitalized Veterans.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has accused the charity of paying officers excessive salaries and making questionable loans.

She wants its administrators to fork over more than $4 million in penalties for alleged misdeeds.

“Up to $2 billion is raised in the name of veterans in this country and it's so sad that a great deal of it's wasted," Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, was quoted as saying.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars of our charitable dollars intended to help veterans are being squandered and wasted by opportunists and by individuals and companies who see it as a profit-making opportunity."

Tying all these cases together: Lax oversight.

San Diego veteran advocates know such a scandal could easily erupt here and are working to establish standards to keep that from happening.

Attorney Judith Litzenberger, a leading figure in the formation of the San Diego Veterans Court, and Bill York, chief operating officer for “2-1-1 San Diego” and a key member of the San Diego Veterans Coalition, are trying to create a vetting process that the public can trust.

Though long overdue, it won’t be easy.

Pointed questions about how contributions are spent nearly resulted in blows at a recent veteran advocate meeting.

Non-profits better at marketing than delivering services will fight reform knowing the truth could ruin them.

Short of dragging state or federal government law enforcement into the picture, the answer is for contributors to do the vetting themselves.

Last year, nearly half of roughly three-dozen veteran charities rated by a monitoring organization failed because they spent too much on fundraising and too little on charitable services.

Ask for official financial disclosure forms that denote where the money goes. Ask for a list of people the program has helped. Go online and do some research.

Worthwhile organizations doing good work are out there. But not every empty cup deserves filling.

Rick Rogers hosts Front & Center: Military Talk Radio Sundays, 11 to noon, Pacific Time, on KCBQ AM 1170 (www.kcbq.com). Podcasts at www.DefenseTracker.com.