While J. Thomas Burch, founder of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, may be in part responsible for the organization’s tremendous fundraising, he was also responsible for its zero-star rating and the squandering of most of that money.
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.
“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.”
Burch took 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 was being reviewed by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
In late 2016, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has reached settlements resolving investigations into the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, which also operated as the American Veteran Support Foundation. They said that former President and Founder, John Thomas Burch, Jr., and its Vice President, David Kaufman had to repay Burch’s severance pay received from NVVF and will cooperate with ongoing investigations into others associated with NVVF and its fundraisers.
Burch issued an apology to donors of the charity and to Vietnam Veterans whom he exploited in order for fundraisers to collect money. Burch also admitted that the charity had paid 90% of its donations to its fundraisers and admitted to deceptively marketing how solicited money would be spent.
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Out of the many horrible abuses the investigators found was that funds for the charity were used to “pay for foreign and domestic travel, frequenting night clubs in the Baltimore area on a nearly weekly basis, ordering excessive and expensive food and drink at the country’s top restaurants and lavishing gifts on women.”
The good news now is that the charity has been dissolved and can no longer fool people into donating to a charity that does not benefit veterans. The bad news is that John Thomas Burch retired from the VA on November 30th, 2016 with a full pension and lifetime health care.
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.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.