CURRITUCK CO., NC -- As a former military man, Thomas, who asked not to be identified further, decided to donate to the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, or DVNF.
The Currituck, North Carolina man was disappointed that the small tokens of appreciation he received for the money made in China, even an American flag.
That turned out to be the least of his concerns.
Once Thomas found out the DVNF is the target of a U.S. Senate investigation and the subject of a series of CNN reports, he was sorry he parted with his $85.00.
"I thought I would be helping the veterans," he said.
Senator Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus(D-Mont.) and Veterans Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) are investigating whether the DVNF exploited veterans, taxpayers and abused its tax-exempt status.
A Senate Finance Committee news release states, "According to tax records, DVNF raised tens of millions of dollars over a two-year period, yet reports indicate very little of the money went to directly help disabled veterans." It also says, "large sums" went to the marketing company, Quadriga Art. The release says the foundation gets an "F" rating from watchdog group CharityWatch.
The investigation was prompted, in part, by a series of CNN reports that detailed how the DVNF collected money while some veterans groups say they received unneeded and unwanted materials--like Navy dress shoes and boxes and boxes of candy.
Meanwhile, in a Foundation news release dated May 2012, President Priscilla Wilkewitz said, "Media reports about our activities have been plain wrong."
The DVNF says it has provided $16.1 million in cash and requested items such as clothing, food, health & hygiene products to tens of thousands of underserved & disabled veterans nationwide.
The more Thomas received small gifts from the DVNF, the more he felt obligated to write a check. He says he got two calculators inscribed with his name, a flag, cd of patriotic songs, a blanket and gloves. All the materials, he says, were made in China. Thomas says, in the future, he'll do more research before donating to any charity. "
Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney spokesperson Macie Pridgen says there are many ways a person can research a charity before mailing a check. She suggests checking with the Better Business Bureau or the state consumer affairs office. On its website, you can find out whether an organization is non-profit or for-profit. CharityWatch.org also rates charities but has a membership fee.
"You should always be hesitant before donating your money unless you really do your research and really know who you're giving to and it's getting into the hands of the appropriate people," suggests Pridgen.