The Problem

Pictures and videos of injured military warriors are often used by charities to raise money. Yet much of this donated money is stolen or wasted.

In 2021, over $960 million dollars were donated to lower-rated veteran charities–nearly triple what is given to well-rated veterans groups.

How does this happen? Simply put, people don’t know the facts. They are emotionally touched by TV commercials and slick mailers. That huge sum of poorly targeted donations would make a far greater impact on the livelihoods of veterans if spent on well-run veteran nonprofits. Consider, what’s the difference between Wounded Warriors Family Support and the Wounded Warrior Project? According to the latest financial data, Wounded Warriors Family Support has a $39 million dollar budget and spends only 12% on overhead costs. The Wounded Warrior Project has a $276 million dollar budget and spends nearly $100 million on overhead. Imagine what that money could do to help veterans if that money were redirected to Wounded Warriors Family Support.

The RAM Veterans Foundation can make a huge difference simply by educating those who collectively are donating millions every year in support of our military men and women.

Read more about our ratings here. Read below for some examples of problem veterans charities.

Case Studies

“The single largest problem in enforcement in this community is that as a society we have not yet decided to do more than lightly regulate [the nonprofit sector] worth billions of dollars.”

– Cindy Lott, Lead Counsel on Charity Enforcement and Oversight at Columbia Law School

At first glance, The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF), had an admirable mission of “providing critically needed support to disabled and at-risk veterans who leave the military wounded—physically or psychologically.” Many Americans also seemed to believe the DVNF was providing critical support to disabled veterans. The group raised over $115 million in donations just six years after its founding in 2007. But less than 15% of donations were spent on program expenses. Manufactured veteran testimonials were used in mail and phone solicitations.

In their solicitations, the group falsely stated that for every dollar donated to DVNF, the organization would be able to supply nearly $10 worth of goods and services to disabled veterans around the country. In actuality, DVNF spent 90 cents of every dollar it raised on direct mail costs, amounting to over $104 million paid to fundraisers at the end of 2013. This gross financial mismanagement resulted in a debt of $13.8 million to direct-to-mail services companies like Quadriga Art—a fundraising consultant that agreed to pay $25 million to settle an investigation by the New York Attorney General.

Additionally, the group claims that they donate “badly needed goods” to smaller veterans charities and other organizations. In reality, the few tangible goods sent are often unnecessary and rendered useless. For example, the small veteran’s charity St. Benedict’s received 11,520 bags of coconut M&M’s, 2,600 bags of cough drops, 2,200 bottles of hand sanitizer and 700 pairs of Navy dress shoes, which the group could not use and were given away during a yard sale.

In another example, the group sent chef coats, pillowcases and cans of acrylic paint to a small veterans charity in Arizona, reporting the fair market value of the donation to be $834,000, significantly greater than the actual amount of $234,000.

As part of the $25 million settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2014, DVNF had to cut all ties with its fundraisers, replaced and reorganized its entire board, and ended all solicitations with falsified materials of veteran stories.

Sincere donors thought their money was going to help disabled veterans. Instead, it was used to pay off solicitors, enabling a wasteful cycle.

Medical professionals are highly respected and well-trusted individuals by the general public. Dr. Allan Spiegel undoubtedly used his title to his advantage when running the Healing Heroes Network just a few doors down from his medical practice in Palm Harbor, Florida. An 11-state investigation found that Allan, along with his wife Stacey and son Neal, redirected money away from rehabilitating veterans in order to fund high-paying salaries, telemarketing junk mail, and even t-shirts from a relative’s clothing business.

In 2016, the Healing Heroes Network pulled in $2.7 million of revenue. It was claimed to be used to help wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to receive medical treatment not available from the Veterans Administration. Incredibly, Healing Heroes Network spent less than a half of one percent on direct services to veterans (a grand total of $13,387). Despite this lack of spending, Allan’s wife was able to pull in a salary of $110,000 as treasurer of the group.

The family formed another fraudulent veterans charity similarly named Hero Giveaways that also came under scrutiny. Both groups dissolved following a multistate investigation and settlement. The Spiegels were banned from running a nonprofit for five years, and $95,000 worth of donations was ordered to be recovered and redirected to accredited organizations with similar missions.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, the former founder of Help Heal Veterans, Roger Chapin, explained that diverting funds away from veterans assistance to pay $80,000 golf club dues was a necessary cost: “I think it was entirely appropriate,” he said. “The board plays golf when they come to meetings out there.”

Even if these funds were diverted away from Chapin’s lavish golf outings, most would agree that the services the organization provides would be better spent on more critical needs. HHV claims it provides “free therapeutic arts and crafts kits” to hospitalized veterans, but an investigation from CNN noted that the kits merely included instructions for making paper airplanes. HHV’s “therapeutic kits” could have easily included more subsistence, but the group was too busy spending around 55 cents of every dollar donated on “awareness programs,” costing nearly $240 million.

Over a 10-year period, HHV wasted $160 million spamming American households with nearly 440 million letters with action steps such as “Volunteer at VA hospitals or become pen pals with a veteran.” Taking advantage of an accounting loophole, HHV was thus able to decrease its reported fundraising costs from 65 percent to less than 30 percent of total costs.

While bed-ridden war veterans were given instructions on how to build paper airplanes, key officers and board members enjoyed six-figure salaries and spent the charity’s funds on a Virginia condominium.

In 2012, the California attorney general accused the charity of improper use of funds and brought legal action against it. The resulting settlement was a $2,500,000 fine against the charity and the resignation of key officers.

Help Hospitalized Veterans is still in operation, rebranding itself under the name Help Heal Veterans.

Operating under a slew of pseudo-names such as American Disabled Veterans Foundation, Military Families of America, Veterans Emergency Blood Bank, and Veterans Fighting Breast Cancer, Help The Vets reeled in over $20 million between 2014 to 2017 to allegedly assist veterans with grants, medical care, suicide prevention, and therapeutic family retreats.

Instead of “helping the vets,” the group spent over 95% of donor contributions to pay its founder, Neil G. Paulson, for-profit fundraisers and other overhead expenses. Over $776,000 was raised for breast cancer treatment and chemotherapy grants, yet not a single grant was distributed. The medical care provided was just vouchers for chiropractic treatment only redeemable at a single location in Florida, with fewer than five vouchers being redeemed. Therapeutic retreats turned out to be vouchers for timeshares in Mexico, and one of the only two vouchers redeemed was used by the former board president. Paulson had the audacity to advertise his own personal cell phone as a “24/7 veteran suicide prevention hotline.”

The Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with multiple states, reached a settlement in federal court with Help The Vets and Neil Paulson Sr., imposing a $20.4 million judgment. Paulson was banned for life from running, operating and or managing any charitable fund and was forced to destroy any donor lists that Help The Vets utilized. The organization was also ordered to forfeit its remaining assets (less than $75,000) and Paulson will pay $1.75 million to be redistributed to legitimate charities under court approval.