• Top officers of charity paid hundreds of thousands each year while over 100,000 veterans remain homeless
By Dave Gahary
While nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless and hungry living on the streets of this once-great nation, the leading non-profit in the United States whose stated purpose is to tend to America’s wartime disabled and their families, has veered from its original mission and has diverted donations ostensibly meant for veterans to the leadership of the organization, some of whom are paid nearly $400,000 per year.
The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) was founded in 1920 for disabled veterans of the U.S. armed forces returning from World War I, to help them and their families adapt to living with physical and mental disabilities. Chartered by the U.S. Congress and headquartered in Cold Spring, Kentucky, 1.2 million veterans are members of DAV, which makes it the largest charity of its kind. Every state in the union has a DAV Department, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and each of those has Chapters associated with it. Currently there are approximately 1,500 Chapters across the country. The primary function of the DAV has been to serve as a veteran’s advocate for filing Veterans Administration (VA) disability claims, for which it has had great success, notwithstanding the record claims backlog of the VA.
Bringing in annual donations exceeding $100 million over the past several years in the form of contributions and grants from individuals and corporations, the charity pays out enormous sums to its leaders.
Arthur H. Wilson, who just retired on June 1 after serving for 19 years as the DAV’s National Adjutant and Chief Executive Officer, which is the organization’s senior staff official, was paid $353,519 in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. The year prior, in 2010, while Wilson was paid $345,077, the charity showed a loss of nearly $1,000,000. Other highly-compensated individuals of the charity were paid similarly large amounts, from Executive Director Barry A. Jesinoski’s $346,450 to Wilson’s son, David, who took home $89,684 in 2011.
Compensation for others in the upper ranks is equally stratospheric. After Jesinoski’s haul, Christopher J. Clay, DAV’s counsel, brought home $325,890 in 2011. DAV’s comptroller, Anita F. Blum, raked in $254,726 while Joseph A. Violante, DAV’s National Legislative Director, or Washington, D.C. lobbyist, collected a cool $250,520. Rounding out the upper circle are Garry J. Augustine, National Service Director, $240,358 and David W. Gorman, another D.C. lobbyist, who brought home $208,130.
While DAV’s compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and highest compensated employees is enough to raise eyebrows, the charity’s history of annual pay increases to these individuals is great cause for concern.
J. Marc Burgess, who took over for Wilson on June 1, was paid $219,283 in 2010, and $263,185 in 2011, an over-20 percent increase. Wilson’s son, David, saw his income jump from $75,516 in 2010 to $89,684, a nearly 20 percent spike. This despite the fact that the charity lost nearly a million dollars in 2010 and U.S. median household income during that same period decreased nearly 2%.
Even more alarming are the amounts paid to the individuals sitting on the Board of Directors. All ten officers, who perform no more than five hours per week serving on the Board, are compensated handsomely. The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Wallace Tyson, was paid $92,256 for his five hours of weekly service, or nearly $400 per hour. Interestingly, Tyson also served as DAV’s National Commander a few years prior, while several other Board members also served in that position.
DAV’s National Commander, a mostly ceremonial position, garners his huge income from not just the paltry time spent on the Board but also in the form of a travel allowance. In 2011, the DAV National Commander got “an expense allowance, which works out to $14,583 per month, to cover lodging, some transportation, meals and incidentals while traveling. The DAV does pay for transportation – which is primarily airfare.” While this equates to $175,000 annually, what makes this figure even more problematic is that the charity covers his travel expenses, so this income is simply pocket money, for which no voucher or expense form needs to be submitted. The Commander in 2011, Donald L. Samuels, also held a position that same year on the DAV Board of Directors and received $94,362 for five hours per week of service, or $1,815 per week.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990, the document that “provides the public with financial information…and is often the only source of such information,” details the huge amounts the charity pays its top officers, who are all required to be disabled veterans in order to secure employment with the organization. The form “is also used by government agencies to prevent organizations from abusing their tax-exempt status.” DAV’s 990 for 2011 is 103 pages and is available on its website. The charity’s 2012 Form 990 was released in August.
DAV is a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization, which “are not required to disclose their donors publicly,” which makes these types of entities ideal “for organizations that are actively involved in lobbying.”
CharityWatch, which publishes the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report, rates the financial efficiency of over 500 U.S. charities, with “grades ranging from A+ (best) to F (worst) and are based on analysis of charities’ financial documents,” has regularly given DAV a score of D. “The ratings include the percentage of a charity’s budget that is spent on program services, how much it costs a charity to raise $100, an accountability measure, and the salaries of the charity’s three highest-paid employees.”
If word of these pay packages reaches a significant cross-section of the American public, it could mean rough sailing ahead for DAV, as well as for other veterans’ charities, which also compensate their leaders handsomely, according to their 990s, and also receive low scores from CharityWatch.
Already, disabled veterans who had previously donated money to the charity have turned off the spigot. Several of these individuals have notified this newspaper that after years of regular donations to the charity, the pay packages have turned them off to such an extent that they no longer donate.
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.
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