May 31, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada says he can bring
40 votes to a no-confidence vote on Nouri, Baghdad is slammed with
bombings, Iraq's energy auction is a bust, the US House Veterans Affairs
Committee reviews the progress on the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and more.
just spent last weekend, and in particular Monday, honoring
our nation's defenders that are no longer with us. Now it's time for us
to renew our focus on those who still need our help in securing a good
job," declared US House Rep Jeff Miller drawing this morning's House
Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order. The hearing explored the
VOW To Hire Heroes Act
which Chair Miller hailed as "an excellent example of what we can do when we all work together."
Committee heard from VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey
who was accomanied by VA's Curtis Coy and they heard from the Labor
Dept's Acting Assistant Secretary of Veterans Employment and Training
Ishmael Ortiz who was accompanied by Kathy Tran. Why the hearing?
Jeff Miller: While I am impressed by the level of effort being made by
program level staff at both departments, I am concerned that not enough
is being done by either cabinet secretaries [VA Secretary Eric
Shinseki, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis] or the President [Barack Obama]
himself to promote this benefit. Getting the message out about this
opportunity is critically important to putting unemployed veterans on a
path to a job in a high-demand field. Clearly, aggressive promotion by
the nearly three thousand One Stop Employment Centers are the key to
filling the 99,000 training slots that have been authorized by the VOW
Act. I want to give you just one example -- one example of why I am
concerned that despite VA's significant outreach efforts -- for which I
commend them -- problems are still arising. Staff was contacted by a
community-based organization in Georgia about what appears to be a lack
of effort to get the program started. Shortly after the passage of
the VOW Act, the organization contacted the Augusta One Stop Employment
Center about how to enroll unemployed vets in the program. They asked
again in mid-March and the DVOPS and LVERs were still not aware of the
program. Two weeks later, Augusta told them the Georgia Department of
Labor was not aware of VRAP. In early April, both the Georgia and South
Carolina Departments of Labor stated they were waiting for policy from
DC. In late April, there still appeared to be little understanding of
how the program would work. It appears that finally, on May 11th, 2012,
a mass e-mail from VA was released detailing how the program would be
implemented, only 4 days later on May 15th. Obviously, if that is
typical of the level of awareness at the One Stop Centers, I think we
all agree we've got big problems with the potential launch coming up
On the subject of veterans
hiring, the Dept of Labor is holding a Veterans Hiring Fair next week on
Wednesday, June 6th. It will be at the Great Hall of the Frances
Perkins US Dept of Labor Building on 200 Constitution Ave. starting at
ten in the morning and ending at one in the afternoon. So that's just
three hours and they're hoping for a large turnout. After this
morning's hearing, I went to talk to a friend at the Labor Dept to make
sure I understood some of the issues from the hearing. When I brought
up Miller's solid issue of getting the word out, I was told that even in
DC it can be a struggle to get the word out and that job fair was used
as an example. So I'm including it here at the top. You will need
veteran i.d. to enter the job fair. And it is open to all adult
veterans. Repeating, that's next week on Wednesday.
for FYI purposes, we'll note Allison Hickey's opening remarks regarding
Veterans Retraining Assistance Program applications:
and the Department of Labor collaboratively developed the VRAP
application process and the requirements for the information technology
system changes to support this process. To efficiently leverage
existing systems, VA modifided its application for VA education benefits
for use by the VRAP applicatns. The VRAP application is available
online at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW,
a web site developed specifically for portions of the VOW to Hire
Heroes Act. This site can be accessed through eBenefits, the GI Bill
web site, DoL web sites and numerous other web sites. Additionally,
Veterans can visit their local DoL One-Stop Career Center locations for application assistance. Applications can be submitted through VA's Veterans Online Application web site.
To be eliglbe for participation, DoL must determine that the applicant
is unemployed, not enrolled in any federal or state job-training program
and is between the ages of 35 aand 60. VA verifies the applicant's
veteran status and type of discharge, and confirms that the applicant
has no other VA education benefits available for use, and is not in
receipt of compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally
disabling by reason of unemployability. After eligibility has been
established, the applicant identifies his or her intended high-demand
occupation category and applicable training institution. Information
about the high-demand occupations, identified by DoL, is availabe on VA's VOW to Hire Heroes web site as well as DoL's web site.
his opening remarks, Ortiz noted that the Labor Dept had "repurposed
approximately $5.4 million of our 2012 Project Year Budget in order to
implement the provisions of the VOW Act." This statement in passing led
to the first question.
Miller: I was just asking staff a question. You talk about repurposing
five-plus million dollars to assist. Was it not funded properly in the
legislation? Where's the money that the legislation appropriated?
Just trying to figure out why would you need additional -- to repurpose
Tran: There were several provisions that did not have -- that
appropriated funds were not included in. So for example, the section
222 study on equivalency is one example.
had indicated Kathy Tran should speak to the question. She did. But
it wasn't really clear. The Chair would say he was still trying to
figure out this money issue and that this was paid for in the
legislation but then he would note that people behind Tran were shaking
their heads "no" on that last part.
let's delve into that. Tran's referring to the fact that the
legislation required the Dept of Labor to identify skill equivlance
between military and civilian employment. Was this fully funded?
That's one of the questions I asked when I went to the Dept of Labor
today. No, it wasn't funded at all, I was told, and the Labor Dept had
to take from their budget for it. In addition to the five million
budgeted, more money will likely be spent on this because the study is
not yet completed -- and, again, the legislation requires this study
take place. The Labor Dept is hoping to piggybag on a DoD study. If
they're able to, that would reduce the cost.
addition to wanting to know if the study was funded, Chair Miller also
wanted to know what happened in this program -- limited to 99,000 -- if
someone signed up, was accepted and ended up having to drop out due to
Chair Jeff Miller: What
happens if a veteran enters the program and he drops out? Is that
counted a "used slot"? Or, if there's still funding left, can that be
reallocated to another veteran?
Hickey: Chairman Miller, we have been -- We have been instructed that,
uh, that it works similar to the other Mongtogmery GI Bill and other GI
bills and when that veteran drops then that authority drops in the
99,000 that are available.
Chair Jeff Miller: Drops in or?
Hickey: So if the veteran -- I apologize, Mr. Chairman, let me be a
little more clear about that. If the veteran applies and then doesn't
fulfill the whole year's worth of training and let's say they stop
mid-pointm then that is one of the 99,000 and we cannot recycle the
rest of that benefit on to a different veteran.
Chair Jeff Miller: Is that right?
Allison Hickey: Sir, I think that's the provision of the law that has been laid out for us so that's the way we're working it.
Jeff Miller: Sounds like the provision needs to be corrected, doesn't
it? Would you recommend that that slot be re-allocated?
Hickey: Chairman Miller, from my perspective, from the advocacy that
we have in VA for all veterans, we would certainly like to see every
dollar that you all have put towards this be used to train veterans so
if you are inclined to do something different in the legislation, we
would be happy to consider that.
Chair Jeff Miller: That's a great political answer. [Laughter.] I appreciate that.
Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the pieces of legislation that was passed
during the current wars. The first fall semester checks for that
legislation, in fact, didn't go out until the fall of 2009 (and many
waited much longer than that to receive their checks, but that's another
story). The retraining opportunities offered by the VOW to Hire Heroes
Act was an issue Representative Mike Michaud wanted to explore and he
wanted to delve into job training, not just academic training.
House Rep Mike Michaud: I have a couple of questions. The first is
I've heard from a couple of small towns and cities and county
government, the fact that they're looking for fire fighters as well as
police officers and when you look at the unemployed in the military --
particularly for the military police -- they'd like to hire veterans.
Under the VOW Act, what are you doing to help encourage municipal towns
for police officers and what's available to them? And that's my first
question. My second question is, having done several manufacturing
tours throughout my district over the past year, one of the things I
hear a lot from businesses is that they would like to hire more
employees but they found that they're not trained. When you look at the
extension patnership program, the MOST Program, I don't know if you're
familiar with it? It stands for Mobile Outreach Skill Training, it made
it's MEP, they go into these businesses and actually are willing to
train and they guarantee a job after training or else they do not get
paid for the training. Are you working with extension partnership
programs throughout the country in that regard since they do guarantee
jobs? And do you have the resources needed? So i guess both of you or
who wants to answer both of those questions?
Ortiz: Congressman, first of all -- Let's -- I want to hit your first
question first, sir. Fire fighters and police officers are on a high
demand list so as far as VRAP is concerned, this is an opportunity for
them to be able to go in there if they meet the elegiblity requirements,
sir. On the second part of that, sir, if they don't, we also have
local veterans employment representatives in each one of the One-Stop
Centers our LVERs [Local Veterans Employment Representatives] who go
outreach and make sure and talk to different employers and places to
help them find the skilled person that they're looking for. So our
One-Stops are a very important piece of getting that outreach part and
also local communities, that is the biggest piece of what we are talking
about, working with the communities as much as possible to get that
information to us so that way we can find the proper individuals to help
them fill their needs.
House Rep Mike Michaud: And what type of a benefit will a local
community receive since they are tax exempt? Is there any specific
training piece or is there any other benefit under the VOW Act that will
be beneficial for the communities?
Ortiz: Actually sir -- You know what, I'm not really sure on the
specifics on that, sir. But I'll be more than happy to find out.
US House Rep Mike Michaud: Okay.
Hickey: Congress Michaud, let me just tell you how we have generally
worked with the education programs in relation to this -- especially the
non-degree programs which we started thanks to this Committee and the
Senate Veterans Committee's support from the first of October of last
year when we were allowed to use GI Bill benefits towards non-degree
efforts. We still require your state approving agency to certify the
training. And if you have on in everyone of the states, I would highly
recommend that the counties contact the state approving agencies and
submit their training program to them and let them go through their
normal process, certify it and then I can -- I can cover them under GI
Bill or VRAP for either one.
Ortiz: As far as the MOST, sir, the MOST Program, I'm going to turn
it over to Ms. Kathy Tran. She works specifically on those issues.
Tran: Sir, regarding our partnership. We have a federal partnership
with the US Dept of Commerce and the MEP Program and we have been
encouraging local partnerships in communities and regions across the
country to partner between the workforce system and MEPs in order to
support employment in the manufacturing arena. And we actually issued a
training guidance letter or notice -- I can't remember which one, we
can get back to you on that -- recently to encourage those partnerships
and that letter included examples of existing successful partnerships at
various different levels whether it be working with MEPs on layoff
aversion strategies or working with MEPs to help fulfill, you know, job
openings and training. But also just to add to the question earlier,
One Stop Career Centers are available to help local muncipalities in
their hiring so they can work to help do recruitment, to do job
screening, to do post job openings and so that is a good relationship
between the One Stop Career Centers and those muncipalities. Many local
webs have good representation from their city and county councils and
These are highlights from the
hearing that I'm choosing because they go to issues that may require
further attention. US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised a very important
issue in his questioning. It needed to be explored further but was
US House Rep Jerry
McNerney: I don't think the VA is doing enough to outreach, I don't
think just for this program, there seems to be a reluctance to go to the
media, to advertise on TV, to put up billboards. I'd like to see the
VA do more of that, in general. Especially in this case.
Hickey: Congressman, I appreciate your comments and your questions. I
will say that we have been to the media quite extensively, in the print
media and have gotten it out that way, quite extensively. The -- I
don't know about billboards except to say that we have a lot of veterans
in many, many communities and it would be difficult to figure out the
expense associated with a billboard in a single community. We would
start to, I think,
create some discussion around funding
that would be a little bit untenable. We have been online. I have
literally done, as has the Secretary done on camera interviews about
veteran employment issues and about the opportunity for education to
help those employment opportunities. And I know that Secretary Ortiz'
Secretary [Hilda Solis] has done that as well so I will let him comment
further on that but we have reached out quite extensively through lots
of media different environments including 75 newspapers nationwide for
those communities where veterans -- the unemployment rate for veterans
is the most -- is the highest. We're not stopping.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: So what kind of budget does the VA have for media outreach.
Hickey: Well Congressman McNerney, we are -- We are actually trying to
be good stewards here. So we are leveraging our current network
operation, we are leveraging the good will of communities and newspapers
and others to get this word out as well including all the military
alumni groups, all the -- the Military Times are carrying this for free,
many of the local newspapers are carrying this for free --
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: So in other words, you don't have a budget specifically for outreach?
Hickey: Congresmman McNerney, I've not found the need at this point in
time especially when, in very short order, we have over 12,000
applicants and they're growing every single day. Yesterday, it was
11,000 as the Chairman well noted, today it's twelve. If in fact we do
require, I will be happy to come and share that need with you.
"Military Times" -- that's a publication. Elsewhere, she noted them as
well as Air Force Times, Federal Times, Marine Corps Times, Army Times and Navy Times. I want to be sure they get their credit. The Philadelphia Inquirer was mentioned elsewhere in the hearing as was USA Today, the Fayetteville Observer, the San Antonio Express News and the Wall St. Journal. Those newspapers had all run the VA's notice and run it for free. They deserve credit and praise for their public service.
McNerney is correct, there should be a budget. If he had more time, it
would have been interesting if Hickey could have answered how many
turned them down? Or how many people they had to speak to at the Wall
St. Journal? And how much time was used on this?
point here is that just because the VA did not spend money paying for
advertisement, money was still spent in that staff had to call around.
And I'm sure they got rejections. I'm also sure they got, "This is
great but you need to speak to ___." So how much time was used?
should be a budget and I don't think the VA has staff that can afford
additional duties. The backlog at the VA is so huge -- backlog on
claims processing (but really backlog on anything) -- that I don't
understand how they're able to work on this and claim money was saved.
also don't think this is what the authors of the legislation intended.
(I could be wrong.) You're already limiting the program to 99 slots.
Now you're saying that it's not even an equal playing field. That
whether someone hears about it in a publication depends a great deal on
if they live in San Antonio or Philadelphia?
Labor Dept estimates that the number of unemployed veterans between the
ages of 35 and 60 is 400,000. Repeating, there are only 99,000 slots.
And thanks to Chair Miller's questions, we now know that if someone has
to drop out due to illness or maybe they get a great job offer, that
slot doesn't get refilled. It seems like the VA needs to be targeting
This is not supposed to be a
secret program. All 400,000 should know it's out there and be able to
compete equally for the 99,000 spots. This is probably the strongest
veterans legislation passed since 2009. Refusing to spend money to get
the word out on the program is ridiculous and goes against the whole
point of it.
Good for the newspapers who did
run it for free, good for the VA staff that worked on that. But there
should be an advertising budget. The government's more than happy to
foot the bill for lots of TV and print advertising to recruit into the
military. They should have the same --if not more -- willingness to
spend the money to get the word out on programs.
down before we move on to Iraq, US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised the
issue of billboards. In political campaigns, billboards are largely a
vanity issue. Studies have found repeatedly that they have less impact
on voting than other forms of advertising. Those studies are on voting
for a particular candidate. There are no studies on what impact they
have on raising awareness of new programs. My guess is that they would
be rather effective since they are stationary and many people pass
them. That's just my guess. But the VA should be using a wide range of
techniques to reach veterans. And the very last thing on the hearing.
No one asked Allison Hickey a question that she should have been asked
(two veterans asked me if I heard the same thing in the hearing -- I
did). She noted a mass mailing sent out to veterans, 460,000 e-mails.
That's fine. But what bothered the two veterans (and bothered me as
well) was that Hickey stated that they "were viewed or opened by 23
percent of recipients" -- how does she know that? What is the VA
attaching to e-mails that allows them to know if they were opened or
not? Veterans get e-mails from the VA all the time and if there's
something additional that they aren't seeing but is in those e-mails,
they need to be informed of that. She didn't explain how she knew the
number (or how she knew it was 12% above a standard opening rate) and no
one asked her. We'll note another veterans issue as we wind down the
snapshot, right now on to Iraq.
Today, Baghdad was yet again slammed with bombings. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports
the bombings took place over "a three-hour period" today in Shi'ite and Sunni neighborhoods. Laith Hammoudi (AFP) observes
the bombings are "underlining persistent security concerns even as
international energy companies met in the centre of the capital to bid
on oil and gas exploration blocks." Deutsche Welle adds
"The last major bomb blast to hit the Iraqi capital was in mid-May when
a suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in the city." Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quotes
survivorNaseer Ali stating, "I was in my shope when I heard a powerful
explosion and everybody rushed to the explosion site. Part of the
restaurant was damaged and the windows of the nearby shopws were
shattered. We saw several wounded people screaming for help."
The number of dead and wounded climbed throughout the day. Early on, Patrick Markey and Alison Williams (Reuters) count
9 dead and twenty-seven injured. Then the BBC News counted
12 dead and twenty-seven injured. Citing security sources, KUNA stated
18 were dead and sixty-four were injured and did so before 10:00 a.m.
EST and while other outlets had a much lower figure for the death toll
and the number wounded. As the day faded, AP reported
the death toll had reached 18 and the number injured was at fifty-three.
For anyone wondering, neither the White House nor the State Dept issued any statement regarding the bombings or the dead.
Of today's Baghdad bombings, Al Rafidayn points out
that they take place during a shapr increase in the political crisis. The Irish Times observes
"Some argue that the ongoing political impasse has opened the door to
violence. The unity government headed by Mr al-Maliki, a Shia muslim,
has been largely paralysed since the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
late last year. There is mounting criticism of Mr al-Maliki within the
ruling coalition, amid complaints that he is shutting out Iraq's two
main minorities -- Kurds and Sunni Muslims -- in decision-making."
A group participated in decion making yesterday in Sulaymaniyah Province (KRG). Al Rafidayn reports
that KRG President Massoud Barzani met with Iraqi President Jalal
Talabani, Speaker of Iraq's Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Moqtada
al-Sadr, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (who represents the
National Dialogue which is a part of the Iraqiya political slate),
Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi and others and it was decided that a
no-confidence vote would be taken on Nouri if 164 MPs would sign on. Kitabat notes
Moqtada is stating he can get the signatures. Middle East Online quotes
him stating online, "I promised my partners that if they got 124 votes, I will complete the 164 votes."
Deeply alarmed is Ammar al-Hakim who insists to Alsumaria
that he was not part of the meet-up.
Dar Addustour reports
that al-Nujaifi is said to be ready to call an emergency session of
Parliament to vote on the issue of Nouri. They also note US Ambassador
to Iraq James Jeffries continues to try to shore up support for Nouri
among the National Alliance and that he met with Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Karim Abdzaair (Al-Monitor) notes
"The National Iraqi Alliance responded to anti-Maliki political
activities by sending their president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to meet with
US ambassador in Iraq James Jeffrey to discuss the political crisis in
Iraq. Khadr Khuzai, a member of the National Iraqi Alliance's
presidential council and another pole within the Alliance, met with UN
representative in Iraq Martin Cooper to discuss the crisis. These were
the first two meetings that the Iraqi National Alliance held with US and
UN representatives after the Alliance explicitly rejected
internationalizing the crisis, one which it considers to be purely
three-judge panel hearing the case denied the request, however, and [. .
.] adjourned the trial until June 19. "They have asked for Jalal
Talabani, (former Vice President) Adel Abdel Mahdi, (Talabani's
chief-of-staff) Nasser al-Ani," and four MPs belonging to Hashemi's
mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc to testify, one of the judges said.
In related news, the targeting of Iraqiya's Laith al-Dulaimi continues and Kitabat reports
Iraqi human rights activists joining Talabani's call for al-Dulaimi to
be released. al-Dulaimi was arrested days ago on Nouri's order. He is a
member of the Baghdad provincial council. Nouri began airing
al-Dulaimi's 'confession.' al-Dulaimi -- still in prison -- has
declared he was tortured, that the 'confession' was forced and false.
Realizing he had another p.r. disaster on his hands, Nouri recently
began calling for an investigation into these torture allegations. Abdul-Jabbbar al-Jubouri (Kitabat) reports
that the 'confession' has now aired on Iraqi TV. That's in violation
of the law. al-Jubouri terms it not only a political scandal but an
ethical one as well. Kitabat also doesn't take seriously
Nouri's 'investigation,' noting it was his forces acting on his orders
that tortured Laith al-Dulaimi and now he's going to investigate
While Nouri flounders, Alsumaria reports
the Russian government has extended an invitation to KRG President
Massoud Barzani to visit Moscow so that Russia and the KRG can
strengthen their ties with one another. In other bad news for Nouri,
he's signed a multi-million dollar contract -- valued at a quarter of a
million dollars. Al Rafidayn reports
that this is to build 100,000 housing units. The bad news? While Iraq
suffers record unemployment, Nouri's farming this job out to South
Iraq's two day energy auction ended today. Yesterday brought one successful bid
. W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) explain
"Iraq on Thursday closed a landmark auction of energy exploration
blocks with just three contracts awarded out of a potential 12,
dampening hopes the sale would cement its role as a key global
supplier." The offerings weren't seen as desirable and the deals
offered even less so. But big business began sending signals this
auction would not go well over two months ago. (And we've noted that at
least three times in previous months.) That's due to the instability
in Iraq caused by Nouri -- and it is seen as caused by Nouri in the oil
sector because he is the prime minister, he did pick a fight with
Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, he did order Vice President Tareq
al-Hashemi arrested. All the instability in recent months have not
helped. His attacks on ExxonMobil and their deal with the KRG has not
helped. Nouri al-Maliki is bad for business. If Iraq had the
arrangement they did under Saddam Hussein, Nouri could get away with
that. But he's going to have to grasp real soon that state oil isn't
what it was under Hussein. The economic model (imposed by the US) is
mixed. And if Iraqis hadn't fought back, it would be strictly
privatized. Nouri's not yet learned that his actions impact Iraq's
business. (And, in fairness to Nouri, this is a new thing for Iraq.
Saddam Hussein could do anything and it wasn't an issue unless the super
powers decided it was. But, again, it's a mixed model now. Nouri
might need to bring in some economic advisors from out of the
country.) W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) report
Iraq's response to the poor showing at the auction is to declare that they will hold another one.
US Senator Patty Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
and her office noted yesterday an important concern she and two other
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Blumenthal, Nelson Call on Departments of Justice, Treasury to
Investigate Charitable Organizations Exploiting Veterans for Own
Recent findings raise serious questions as to whether organizations are violating federal law and abusing their tax exempt status by misrepresenting work on behalf of veterans
D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate
Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senators Richard Blumenthal
(D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in sending two letters regarding the
Veterans Support Organization (VSO), addressing potential violations of
federal law and abuse of tax exempt status by the 501(c)(3)
organization. The first letter was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder
and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, requesting an audit and, where appropriate, an investigation of the VSO for potential violations of federal law.
a second letter, sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki,
Senator Murray, again joined by Senators Blumenthal and Nelson,
expressed concern about the membership criteria used by the Department of Veterans Affairs'
Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate
prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to require any
standards of conduct for its members. The Senators point out the lack of
internal controls for membership on the advisory committee and call for
the removal of any organization that fails to conduct
itself in a manner befitting the Department's mission or that exploits
its relationship with the Department for its own financial gain.
a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department
risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business
practices by permitting their membership on the NAC," the Senators write
in the letter to Secretary Shinseki. "For example, the Veterans Support
Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a
way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the
seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from
state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news
organizations and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have
been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at
least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law."
The full text of both letters follow:
May 30, 2012
The Honorable Eric H. Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear General Holder and Secretary Geithner:
write to request that the Departments of Justice and Treasury audit and
investigate, as appropriate, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), a
registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, for potential violations
of federal law.
the seventeen states in which it operates, including Connecticut and
Florida, VSO has attracted scrutiny from state authorities, reputable
veterans service organizations, local news organizations and individual
veterans. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest,
misleading, and fraudulent and in at least one instance, VSO has
acknowledged breaking state law. Taken together, these actions and
allegations raise serious questions as to whether VSO has repeatedly and
intentionally misappropriated public donations and abused its tax
exempt status in violation of federal law.
the heart of VSO's suspect practices is its use of paid solicitors,
violation of state solicitation laws and financial irregularities. VSO
presents its paid solicitors to the public as veterans, providing them
with camouflage-style uniforms and instructing them to keep thirty
percent of their collected donations as commission. Through its use of
these paid solicitors, VSO has been found in violation of state
charitable contribution laws and has faced civil penalties as a result.
VSO's paid solicitors program is its single largest expenditure, with
executive and employee compensation following close behind. In 2009
alone, VSO paid its chief executive officer $255,000, or over four
percent of its total revenue. That same year, VSO's spending on its paid
solicitor program and executive and employee compensation was over
eight times greater than its direct grant awards to other veterans
service organizations, government entities, and individual veterans.
Clearly, VSO's disproportionate spending on paid solicitors and its own
executives, coupled with its admitted violation of state solicitation
laws and general lack of transparency and accountability is cause for
serious concern. For your reference, we have enclosed a background paper
that details VSO's questionable conduct in greater detail.
an increasing number of our servicemembers return home and transition
to civilian life, it is especially critical that charity organizations
act as good stewards of the American people's goodwill and generosity
towards our veterans. On behalf of our nation's veterans and those who
serve them, we thank you for your attention to this matter and look
forward to your timely response detailing the steps you have taken
auditing or investigating, as appropriate, VSO.
May 30, 2012
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
write to express our concern about the membership criteria used by the
Department's Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to
evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to
require any standards of conduct for its members.
is critical that organizations permitted to affiliate themselves with,
or invoke the name of, the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct
themselves in a manner befitting the Department's mission, its
reputation and the integrity of its work. Yet today, any organization
that meets a minimum level of monetary and material support to VA
facilities is eligible for membership on the NAC. No other review is
undertaken by the Department to evaluate a potential member
organization, nor does the NAC have in place any standards of conduct to
which its member organizations must adhere.
is both troubling and unacceptable. Without a meaningful review process
or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing
organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting
their membership on the NAC. For example, the Veterans Support
Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a
way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the
seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state
authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations
and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have been
characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least
one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law.
response to VSO's suspect practices, we have written to the Attorney
General and to Secretary Geithner, requesting that their departments
investigate whether VSO has misappropriated public donations or abused
its tax exempt status in violation of federal law. We expressed our
concern that charity organizations must act as good stewards of the
American people's generosity towards our veterans. Surely an
organization, such as VSO, which has admitted breaking state law, should
be ineligible to serve on the NAC or use the Department's name in
furtherance of its own financial interest.
protect the integrity of the NAC's work, we ask that you review this
situation and take such action as you consider appropriate. It is our
hope that you will rescind the membership of VSO and any other
organization that fails to reflect the caliber and character of the
Department's mission and work, and institute safeguards to regulate the
NAC's membership accordingly. We look forward to hearing from you
regarding your review of this issue. Thank you for all that you do on
behalf of our nation's veterans.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray