Exploiting America’s Veterans

Have you received one of those letters in the mail asking you to send money to help wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan?

If so, I hope you ignored it — not because I do not care about our troops, but because I do. It turns out that at least two of these charities are run by people who would rather line their own pockets than help veterans.

One charity is called Help Hospitalized Veterans. The Washington Post reports that this outfit spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal expenses for Roger Chapin, who manages the charity. Richard Viguerie, "to whom the charity has awarded millions in fundraising-consulting contracts," also reportedly used contributions to pay for personal expenses.

What kind of expenses? At least $340,000 in meals, hotels, and entertainment. And Mike Lynch, the executive director, received a loan of $135,000 for a divorce settlement for his ex-wife. Donations also paid for trips to Hawaii, country club memberships, and a million-dollar loan to Viguerie for a start-up initiative at his company. That does not even count the half-a-million-dollar yearly salary Chapin paid himself and his wife!

The second charity, the Coalition to Support America's Heroes, raised in excess of $168 million from 2004 to 2006. How much did America's heroes actually get? One-quarter. The rest went to direct-mail fundraising, salaries, and other expenses.

These abuses-both of the people who donated the money and the veterans the funds were supposed to benefit-were so serious that Congress decided to investigate. Retired Army General Tommy Franks, who had lent his name to Coalition to Support America's Heroes, stopped doing so when he found out how little money was actually helping the veterans.

Last week Congress condemned Chapin for what they called "an intolerable fraud"-squandering money intended for wounded warriors. When asked what would happen if the public found out, Chapin answered, "We'd be out of business." Let's hope so!

The military charity scandals illustrate why good character is so important when we are choosing leaders — whether they are leaders of charities or leaders of government. The Old Testament reminds us that leaders are not to pervert justice or take bribes. They should fear God and hate dishonest gain.

All waste and fraud are wrong, but the squandering of money intended for our veterans truly makes me ill. These are the men and women who risked their lives to protect America. To exploit our veterans to enrich oneself is contemptible.

Shockingly, there are not any laws that require charities to tell donors how their contributions are used. This means that when appeals arrive in your mailbox, like those letters with the coin in the window or the dollar bill, watch out. I would take the money, give it to a deserving charity, and throw the letter away.

You can check on charities' records with a watchdog group-like the American Institute of Philanthropy. Or go to Wallwatchers.org for information on Christian charities. And I urge you to visit the BreakPoint website for a list of fiscally responsible charities that help our men and women in uniform-charities that offer our wounded veterans the help they richly deserve.

Visit the American Institute of Philanthropy and Wall Watchers to learn about the reputation of charities.

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