Donors Should Research Veterans Charities Before Giving Money, Experts Say

On Veterans Day, many Americans wonder about the best way to donate time and money to help the millions of veterans across the country.

There are 45,000 charities devoted to veterans and their families that registered with the IRS, and California has more than any other state.

Unfortunately, many veterans charities do more to help themselves than the soldiers and their families they claim to be helping, according one watchdog group.

The Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club in Orange County is a long way from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, where retired Marine Master Sergeant Davey Lind spent more than 14 years on the front lines.

“If it is bad and sandy, there is a good chance I have been there,” Lind said.

For Veterans Day this year, Lind is helping raise money for the nonprofit Semper Fi Fund at a golf outing, a charity he said was there for him in his darkest hours, after he lost both legs in a June 14, 2007 IED explosion.

“The vehicle I was operating in as a platoon sergeant struck and activated a pressure-plate IED in Iraq,” Lind recalled. “The force of that blast removed my legs and put me on a new path.”

Alone and hospitalized, Lind said a few women from the Semper Fi Fund, which he had never heard of before that, came to his hospital room to offer to help him and his wife pay some bills.

“During that time I did not have to think about anything in a financial status of our house or our condo and more importantly, neither did she,” he said.

CharityWatch, a watchdog group that investigates how charities raise and spend money, gives the Semper Fi Fund an A+ rating.

“They give 93, 94 percent of their spending toward bona fide real programs that help veterans, and their cost to raise money is very small. It's only like 3 or 4 percent,” said Daniel Borochoff, founder and president of the organization.

He said that isn’t the case across the board.

“It turns out that most of the veterans and military charities make a D and F grade,” he said.

Borochoff said failures happen because the money raised is not going to the programs they promote.

“A lot of times they will hire professional fundraising companies that will keep 85 to 90 percent of the money,” he said.

Borochoff said the Veterans Administration offers a number of benefits, so when picking a charity to donate to, it’s important to look for programs that don’t duplicate what they provide.

“Hone in on what the charity is actually doing to benefit veterans and that it is not something that the government already provides for,” he said.

Borochoff recommended doing a little research, to find the best ways consumers can help our vets in need.

“What is really sad is that it goes on year after year after year after year and people aren't wising up and checking this out before they give,” he said.

And those services could be exactly what a veteran needs.

“I always envisioned myself either living or dying on the battlefield. I never saw myself being gravely or seriously injured,” Lind said, crediting Semper Fi Fund for being there when he needed the help.

CharityWatch maintains information to help donors choose the best place to give, inlcuding a donor's guide.

GuideStar maintains financial tax documents for most nonprofits, including veterans organizations.

Charity Navigator can also help and provides tips for donors as well.

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