Tax Time Tips: Check Out the Veteran or Troop Support group BEFORE giving!


charitiesrespo_mn_ipod_photo I decided to run this special report, because it is tax time for those of us who pay taxes and care where the money goes, and several civilian groups interested in organizing and donating to one of the various troop and military family morale support groups that came out of the woodwork after 911 and our invasion of Iraq. Put politely after the Global War on Terror began.
I hope readers find my response informative, or controversial if you please, however apply a little common sense and note that what I’m able to recommend makes sense.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
      First, I really don’t want to get in the business of recommending any troop and military family support group over another. That said, I commend you for asking someone who’s been following the SCAMS out there for advise. Kudos to you and yours for just asking.

I did a quick check of the Operation you ased about, and liked what I saw regarding accountability IF IT’S TRUE. I understand they are listed but not rated by Guidestar but I’m suspicious because when I went to Guidestar to check out their rating system and the info was not readily apparant, and one had to register and pay a fee to find out. A closer look at Guidestar’s mission and related links show it IS NOT a charity watchdog organization or it would have been asked to give testimony before Congress on the efficiency of Veteran and Troop related groups. In fact, Guidestar’s mission specifically states, guidestar_logo"GuideStar’s mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving." For a basic or premium membership researchers can access IRS data on Guidestar member organizations, AND really questionable is can list with Guidestar. Simply put Guidestar is a charity database NOT a watchdog organization and is not designed as such. Meaning those who wish to give must be their own warchdog based on raw data Guidestar provides.

I also do not believe that Guidestar was any of the watchdog organizations tasked by Congress to look at and give testimony
on the efficiency of Veteran and Troop Support groups. The two that Congress tasked to investigate and have given documented aip_logo125x72testimony before Congress were the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) link below. Their director not only gave failingtoserv_mntestimony before Congress but working with ABC news investigative reporters exposed Veteran and Troop related charities that were either SCAMs or mismanaged (given an F rating) meaning more donations went toward advertising and selling the effort than went to troops, vets, or military families.

American Institute of Philanthropy

charity_navigator_4star_banner_1200x337_jpg_400_01Charity Navigator was the other watchdog used by Congress to monitor and report on non-profits. Here is a link to their special report on Veterans and Troop Support groups they’ve rated.

I like the down home, user friendly advise Charity Navigator gives. Just because a charity is not rated by either AIP, Charity Navigator, or listed in the Guidestar Database doesn’t mean they are not efficient or they are a scam. Why? A charity has to have IRS records from at least five years in operation to be rated by Congressionally tasked watchdog organizations. That means all charities must have been alive for about five or more years before a watchdog even looks at them. Most troop support groups born on 911 should of course fit the bill by now, those born in 2003, I believe have a year or so to go, but all will eventually qualify to be watched and reported to Congress.

America Supports NOW recommends doners check out any Veteran or Troop support group linked to the ASY website by using the Charity Navigator rating system combined with three other resources (BBB Charities, Combined Federal Camaign (CFC) and Independent Sector).

Current ASY policy is to BE SURE THAT YOU CHECK OUT iconbesureTHE GROUPS SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS BEFORE GIVING, "The Department of Defense is dedicated to communicating citizen support to the men and women serving in our Armed Forces and their families through the America Supports You program. This site is not intended to solicit donations from the American public, and the appearance of hyperlinks or logos does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of linked sites or the information, products, or services contained therein. While we welcome the support of citizens and non-profit organizations, we also encourage individuals to be sure of the organizations they contribute to by asking questions recommended by leaders in the nonprofit world. The Independent Sector at, for example, recommends 22 different principles that nonprofits should adopt. The Combined Federal Campaign at, Charity Navigator at, the Better Business Bureau at, among others are good sources to contact.Be sure your support reaches the people you want to help." ASY SOURCE LINK

The problem I believe most Veterans and Military Family support groups born on or after 911 have with the above policy is why do WE patriotic organizations have to be watched at all.That’s a very good question (wink). The simple answer is that under IRS non-profit status Veteran and Troop Non-profits are no different than anyother charity unless donations to them ARE NOT tax deductable. Remember it is tax time, and this reminder will continue this time of the year until the War on Terror ends.

This is the basic advice given by Charity Navigator, AIP, and though a database not a watchdog organization even recognized by ASY, ask anyone representing GuideStar about their best advice for SMART GIVING, and they come up with something like this:

"We caution you to look carefully before choosing one of these [Veteran or Troop] charities to support as not all operate with equal efficiency. Those with the highest ratings have demonstrated their exceptional financial health. Donors can be confident that contributions made to the higher rated charities will be spent efficiently as these charities have low overhead and fundraising costs enabling them to use more of their resources in carrying out their mission. On the other hand, the low rated charities do not operate efficiently. Much of the money donors give to those organizations ends up in the hands of for-profit fundraisers, not the brave women and men of the United States¢ military and their families."

Charity Navigator has the best rating system for Veterans and troop support I’ve been able to find. AIP tends to be the watchdog organization Congress turns to in order to balance out political lobbying by VSOs to get Congress to look the other way on fund raising inefficiency.

This is the positive I found on Operation Gratitude the organization your community desires to donate to. First, your organizaition is located in Ohio, and Operation Gratitudes operates out of California. That should figure in your donation decision given how many Ohio National Guard members deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. That said,

497_operation_gratitude_logo_400 "Operation Gratitude is a California corporation, granted 501(c)(3) exempt status by the IRS, and recognized as a charitable organization by the California Franchise Tax Board. Tax returns are available online at . Donated funds are used to pay for production and shipping expenses (postage, labels, tape, equipment rental, insurance,etc) and communications (website upkeep and email system). We do not expend funds on fundraising campaigns (eg. direct mail or staging events). All contents of the packages are donated by individuals and groups through collection drives, or by companies that donate their own products. Our budget for 2009, to ship 110,000 packages, is $1.2 Million, of which $1.1 Million is postage. As each of our care packages is addressed to a specific service member, the only means of transport is through the Military Postal system via the USPS; only an Act of Congress can provide a discount or elimination of that cost ($9.85 per package). Our overall cost per package is $11.
The best recommendation I can give your community organization is check out the groups that have been with the Armed Forces long before 911 or the Global War on Terror began. They would be the most efficient and have long established logistics lines, because they have been part of the Armed Forces for decades or more (though some have had an informal assoication like the USO, the in-service morale support groups are run, managed, and employed by each service, so they are by nature more efficient for they have no overhead per se.

The USO comes to mind as a long time friend and supporter of the Armed Forces long before 911, and rest assured it will be around long after the War on Terror ever ends (HUM). I’m sure they have some kind of program similar to Operation this or that, because they’ve provided baby nurseries and troop lounges at most International Air Ports that are used by transiting troops and families. The USO has done this through Peacetime and for how many wars now???

Unfortunately, DOD never had an all service welfare fund per se, but each military service has had one FOREVER. The Army Aid Society (and Marine equiv) comes to mind provide loans to younger enlisted troops for emergencies, travel, and so on. Each also provides education financial aid to the children of military members in their service for college education. Then of course there is the American Red Cross and Fisher House that have provided support for military families and troops long before the politics and motives surrounding 911 and troop support.

The reason I strongly advise contacting and donating time or whatever to a long established Armed Forces support groups is that they are separate from Veterans groups and focus primarily on active duty troops and Guard members recalled to active duty. I know that the vast majority of Johnny Come Lately’s mean well, but have overwhelmed the Military Postal System. The Pentagon gives lip service to their value, but in reality most of the care packages and stuff end up in military depots all over the world for troops and units to distribute to the locals. Charities believe their efforts are getting to the troops and early in the war most likely were, but there are just too many for the military postal system to handle. Worse yet, it is also an operational security violation, and violation of privacy, to give personal data info to any troop support organizations except those long established with the Pentagon – the Red Cross comes to mind and even that’s on a case by case basis. Queston: where do these so-called troop and military family groups GET private information on where a troop or military family is stationed, when, how, etc…Those are Pentagon databases that are not open source but FOUO at minimum and classified when troops are deployed in combat. I highly doubt that any unofficial database on troop locations given to ANY troop support group is either conclusive, accurate, or legit. Our military family is not the only one that’s been informed that our child’s duty unit within a combat zones is not public information, and we should be leary about giving it out publicly to anyone, especially on internet that is closely monitored by Al Queda operatives. The rag heads are not as unsophisticated as our ignorance and fairy tales wish them to be or we would have wiped out AQ and Osama a long time ago. Mind you, our Soldier is part of a unit. Disseminate his wearabouts to too many people on the internet, and you tell the enemy where his unit is located. This can be a serious violation of OPERATIONAL SECURITY when names and locations of our troops are combined in any public database regardless how much privacy protecting the group claims to have. No group is officially part of the DOD or our government regardless what their poltical views are or are not.

Your community organization that wishes to donate packages, send mail, or give donation to our troops can find links to the USO and various in-house (meaning they are run by the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force as such) service groups on Charity Navigator.

operationhomefrontThough I’ve seen negative press on them, I understand that Operation Homefront is rated highly by Charity Navigator for fund raising efficiency, it seems to be one of the few springing from 911 that rates at all.

The Pentagon IG mentions Operation Homefront in relation to the unethical scandal running rampant in that DOD investigators found misusing tax payer dollars to sell and promote the ASY logo as an official U.S. government clearing house for charities than really supporting our troops. A practice that is highly illegal, and DOD is now working with the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute people related to and/or Stars and Stripes. However, though mentioned in the IG Report there was no indication that Operation Homefront did anything wrong just by association with ASY. There was no funneling of tax dollars to Operation Homefront for example nor any troop support group linked to ASY. Most corruption was within ASY management itself.

Hope this helps.

One important thing to remember is that each military service in-house welfare or relief society is designed on a need basis, so whatever is donated goes to troops and military families that need it most. Another thing is just because an organization is recommended on the Obama website doesn’t make it a good one. I did research on the Veterans and Military Affairs advisors on the staffs of prominent House and Senate members. Most have career political staff members [civilians] who never wore a uniform fill those Veteran and Military liaison positions instead of hiring a Veteran or military family members to act as liason. In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced a new Veterans/Military Affiars advisor who’s only claim to fame is a degree in political science working on a PhD in you got it political science. This is an individual selected for her/his desire for a political career (even on staff) as opposed to experience as a Veteran or Military Family member. Point: I refuse to believe that especially given the overwhelming exploitation of each states Army National Guard units, a politican cannot recruit a Veteran or someone with Miltary Affairs experience to fill those liaison positions.

What really baffles me is how many traditonal VSOs have questioned the practiced of having to coordiante with Congressional staff members who are not Veterans. This also glowingly clarifies just how serious Congress is about Veteran and Military Family preference in hiring, thats what the VA or DOD does (and only those two agencies) there is no room in Congress for Veterans preference in hiring.

I wouldn’t trust anything on any politicians staff our website touting experience at dealing with Veterans or the Armed Forces. That just ain’t so. Most of these jobs are filled OJT.


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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.