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This ‘Vets Charity’ Kept All But 2 Percent of $29 Million in Donations

While J Thomas Burch, founder of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, may be in part responsible for the organization’s tremendous fundraising success, he’s also responsible for its zero-star rating and the squandering of most of that money.

J. Thomas Burch, CEO of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.

J. Thomas Burch, CEO of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.

Burch helped the organization bring in over $29 million in donations between 2010 and 2014, all under the mission of “aiding, supporting, and benefiting America’s veterans and their families.” But Charity Navigator, a charity review group, found that NVVF donated less than 2 percent of its income during that time to charitable causes related to veterans. Only $122,000 out of the $8.5 million raised in 2014 went to veterans’ causes. They gave the NVVF a zero-star rating.

Charity Navigator has given the NVVF a zero-star rating.

Charity Navigator has given the NVVF a zero-star rating.

“It's a zero-star organization and you can't go lower than that,” said Charity Navigator CEO Michael Thatcher. “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 them are family. So one can say, is this representative of an independent board? It's not.”

Listed in the NVVF’s expenses for 2014:

  • An $11,128 “emergency” infusion of cash to Burch's brother
  • Travel: $133,000
  • Parking: $8,000
  • Unnamed “awards”: $21,000
  • Other expenses: $70,000

NVVF Vice President David Kauffman, in an email to CNN, said the charity was actively involved in projects that “fed homeless and unemployed veterans by donating to food banks, sent personal care kits to hospitalized veterans, and donated blankets, hats, and gloves to homeless centers.”

While the NVVF took in around $29 million in donations between 2010 and 2014, only 2 percent of that money went to veterans` causes.

While the NVVF took in around $29 million in donations between 2010 and 2014, only 2 percent of that money went to veterans' causes.

Burch takes in $65,000 a year as CEO and founder of the NVVF. He’s also deputy director in the VA's Office of General Counsel—a federal employee—working as an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs, where his 2014 salary was $127,000. Burch lives in Washington, D.C., where he was recently seen skirting reporters in a Rolls Royce with a front vanity plant that reads “MY ROLLS.”

While holding a position at both the veteran's charity and the Department of Veterans Affairs is not a conflict of interest, according to a VA spokesperson, Burch’s job at the VA is now being reviewed by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

Our military's service members deserve the full support of those who claim to gather donations for their aid. Unfortunately, there are some who continue to take advantage of veterans and their family members through deceptive practices. Read more about common scams that target veterans in this story, and let others know to be alert.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and world traveler with a background in journalism, graphic design, and French pastry. He likes to learn new things whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, folk music and coffee.