A well-funded charity organization called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is under fire after it was revealed that only 2% of its cash donations have actually been donated to veterans and their families. That information was recently brought to light by a team of CNN investigative reporters, who dug into tax records made available by a watchdog organization that tracks the financial performance of thousands of charities across the United States, and which named NVVF one of the “worst” veterans charities in existence — despite the fact that it’s run by a combat veteran who is currently employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to Fast Company, the watchdog group, called Charity Navigator, “ranks nonprofits on the efficacy of their getting and spending, measuring them against seven benchmarks and assigning each one a rating on a scale of zero to four stars.” For example, Concerns of Police Survivors, a charity organization that provides resources to surviving family members of law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty, has an overall score of 91.73 and four out of four stars. That’s good. That’s trustworthy.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, NVVF, which, according to its website, was “created by veterans on behalf of veterans” and is “dedicated to aiding, supporting, and benefiting America’s veterans and their families,” maintains a score of 24.60 and zero — zero — out of four stars. That’s bad. Very bad. By Charity Navigator’s standards, that’s an organization Americans shouldn’t feel comfortable donating their hard-earned money to.
And it gets worse. According to the NVVF website, the board of directors is “made up entirely of veterans who have served in a combat zone.” J. Thomas Burch, the founder and CEO of NVVF, is not only a veteran himself, he’s a federally paid lawyer at the VA. In fact, he’s deputy director in the VA’s Office of General Counsel, where, according to CNN, he pulled in $127,000 in salary in 2014. That’s well over twice what the average household income was for Americans that year. But for Burch, who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and drives a black Rolls-Royce, that apparently wasn’t enough.
Between 2010 and 2014, NVVF raked in more than $29 million in donations, CNN reports. In 2014 alone, the organization raised $8.5 million, a mere $122,000 — or 2% — of which actually went that to veterans and their families. Where did the rest go? According to the charity’s 2014 tax return, which was obtained and reviewed by CNN, $65,000 of it went into Burch’s pocket, while more than two hundred thousand dollars more were spent on travel, unnamed “awards,” “parking,” “phones,” and, of course, “other expenses.” The rest went to “professional fundraisers.”
“It’s a zero-star organization and you can’t go lower than that,” Michael Thatcher, Charity Navigator’s CEO, told CNN. “They don’t have an independent board of directors, they actually don’t even have a comprehensive board of directors — only three members on the board at this point in time and some of the are family. So one can say, is this representative of an independent board? It’s not.”
So far, Burch has proved unwilling to provide an explanation, at least to CNN. When reporters attempted to contact Burch at the VA, he asked them not to contact him while he was working. So the reporters confronted him as he was returning home from work, at which point Burch sped off. The vanity license plates on his Rolls-Royce read: MY ROLLS. But it might not be his Rolls for much longer: According to CNN’s senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, Burch’s position in the VA is now being reviewed by the Office of Inspector General.
“We have an open invitation to Mr. Burch,” Griffin told CNN's Jake Tapper. “If he wants to defend his zero-star rated charity, we are happy to sit down and listen.”