Panel Probes Spending Of Veterans Charities

Ed Edmundson, father of a wounded Iraq veteran, told the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee yesterday about his anger.
Ed Edmundson, father of a wounded Iraq veteran, told the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee yesterday about his anger. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

New allegations of poor financial stewardship at some of the nation's largest veterans charities surfaced yesterday as lawmakers took some of them to task and considered establishing federal oversight of nonprofit organizations.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that three charities whose mission is to raise money to help wounded troops spent between 78 and 91 percent of donations on fundraising activities, enriching private telemarketing and direct-mail consultants, according to committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.)

A fourth charity, Help Hospitalized Veterans, faced sharp criticism from Waxman and lawmakers, who said the group has concealed millions of dollars in payments to fundraisers.

The nonprofit's founder and president, Roger Chapin -- who with his wife collected $540,000 in compensation and benefits last fiscal year, according to federal tax filings -- did not testify. Waxman said that Chapin evaded U.S. marshals trying to serve him with a subpoena.

Chapin's charity purchased a condominium in Fairfax County in May 2006 for $444,600, according to property records reviewed yesterday by The Washington Post. The charity also purchased at least nine properties in the past decade in California, where the group is headquartered, records reviewed by The Post show.

Reached by The Post at his San Diego home last night, Chapin said that he had not been staying at the residence and that his wife has been ill. He rebutted charges of poor fiscal management at his charity.

"You don't know me, but these guys have got this thing so wrong it's unbelievable," Chapin said. "It's a witch hunt. They're totally misrepresenting what the facts are."

The congressional hearing was the first to be convened after a watchdog group found that about a dozen veterans charities spent relatively little of the money they raised on the troops themselves.

"This morning's hearing is about deceit and a sickening betrayal of our most fundamental values," Waxman said. "And I hope it is the first step in fixing an intolerable fraud."

Edgar Edmundson, whose son Eric served in the Army for seven years before suffering severe brain injuries in Iraq, teared up as he told lawmakers about the good work such charities as the Wounded Warrior Project did helping his son recover.

But other charities, Edmundson said, "use the soldiers as commodities to raise funds."

"The first thing that goes through my mind when I read this is anger," Edmundson said of reports about veterans charity spending.

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