Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Connecticut veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2083 to announce that the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), an organization that has come under fire for potentially dishonest, misleading, and fraudulent business practices, has been suspended from the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) National Advisory Committee (NAC). In May, Blumenthal joined Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in writing to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki expressing concern about VSO's membership on the NAC. Government, news, and veterans organizations in Connecticut and across the nation reported a number of allegedly dishonest practices used by the VSO in its attempts to collect donations for veterans. Given these widely reported practices, the letter expressed concern for the weak membership criteria the NAC uses when evaluating prospective members, and the lack of standards of conduct for existing members.
In response to Blumenthal's letter, the VA has suspended VSO from the NAC pending the results of a government investigation, and is also in the process of establishing a task force to review the NAC's membership criteria and standard operating procedures.
"The VA's decision to suspend this suspect organization is a major step to ensure that unscrupulous solicitors are stopped from exploiting veterans' public service for personal financial gain," said Blumenthal. "The VA Task Force will establish standards of conduct and a review process to deter anyone from misusing veterans or misleading contributors. This action is directly the result of information and complaints about the Veterans Support Organization brought to my attention by VFW leaders. Like the VFW and all veterans, I hope that people will contribute generously to legitimate organizations that truly help veterans, not themselves, and that our nation will keep faith with veterans in funding and support for programs providing jobs, training, education, and health care."
"This is a significant breakthrough in ending unscrupulous solicitation of charitable donations by individuals seeking money on behalf of veterans, when little to none of those funds are ever given to programs for veterans," said John Hollis, State Commander of the VFW. "The VFW of Connecticut greatly appreciates the delegation's quick reaction to our concerns."
In addition to sending a letter to the VA, Blumenthal joined the Connecticut delegation in calling for a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of VSO in May, and warned consumers of potentially deceptive practices by the organization at an event with veterans that same month. IRS filings show that VSO received $5.8 million in revenue in 2009, nearly all of it from donations, but distributed only $379,000 for grants and assistance to veterans.
Blumenthal was also joined at today's event by past State Commanders Melvin Hewston and Richard DiFederico as well as Connecticut VFW Chief of Staff Robert Bailey.