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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Potter County Commissioner's Efforts To Protect Veterans Featured In National County Newsletter

Pa. commissioner: ‘Stop stealing from our vets’

By Charles Taylor
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
County News
Potter County, Pa. Commissioner Paul Heimel never served in the military, but you’d never know it from his passion for veterans and military causes.

This son of a World War II vet is working to raise awareness about organizations that are deceptively raising funds for military causes that never benefit veterans or their families.

“We have an opportunity to inform people of how to separate the legitimate solicitors on behalf of legitimate veterans’ causes from the smooth operators out there who operate either in violation of the law or in a gray area slipping between the cracks to solicit, perhaps not illegally, but unethically,” said Heimel, who serves on NACo’s Veterans and Military Service Task Force.

He said nearly half of 39 veterans charities rated by the American Institute of Philanthropy in a recent report received “F” grades. Many of them failed because of their exorbitant fundraising costs, and the fact that they spend a small percentage of what they collect on charitable services, he added.

As an example, he cited a charity called Veterans Support Organization, which took in $8.5 million on behalf of veterans in 2011. Only about $300,000 of that was spent to help veterans, he said, while the organization’s president and founder earned a $255,000 salary.

To get the word out, Heimel has worked with his state association, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), to raise awareness of shady operators. One result was a statewide campaign called “Stop Stealing from Our Veterans.” It created messages and resources that he wants to share with counties nationwide, particularly to those with veterans services officers (VSO).

“Paul raised the issue to the state association,” said CCAP Executive Director Doug Hill. “We decided as part of our military and veterans task force that these are the kinds of issues they should be dealing with.”

Heimel worked with CCAP staff, VSOs and county commissioners across Pennsylvania to launch a media blitz to help consumers and to expose the bad guys. “Our County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania is hoping that other state associations will consider signing on to the public relations campaign, and we’ll be happy to help in any way,” he said.

The campaign included tips from the Federal Trade Commission on how to identify legitimate charities. They include:

Recognize that the words “veterans” or “military families” in an organization’s name do not necessarily mean they will benefit from the money you are donating. To check on an organization, visit militaryonesource.mil.

Look for an organization’s track record. Scam artists follow the headlines and charities can spring up literally overnight in connection with military conflicts and related news stories, and may disappear just as quickly.

Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make.
Some phony charities use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations. You may see a small difference in the name of the charity from the one you mean to deal with.

In Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Veterans and Military Affairs also rallied to the cause and issued warnings about scammers.

“We’ve seen advertisements from businesses that offer veterans assistance in applying for benefits for free, and then end up charging a fee for financial planning services,’’ said Brig. Gen. Mike Gould, the state’s deputy adjutant general for veterans’ affairs. “We need to get the word out that veterans should never pay for these services.”

Although Heimel, who is in his late 50s, never served, he feels he owes it to the “several members of my family who chose military service” to publicize this issue.

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