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tv   The Battlefield at Home  CNN  November 22, 2012 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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human error. it's said that all maritime laws are written in the blood of past disasters. and the costa concordia has thrown up so many questions about safety at sea, questions that remain unanswered. hello. i'm victor blackwell. here is what is happening. in israel a person has been arrested in connection to the bus bombing in tel aviv that injured 24 people. we are told that the suspect has ties to a mosque and detonated the bomb with a cell phone. in palestine, a cease-fire was celebrated. a leader praised israel for raising the white flag. and it is official the black
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friday shop eing has begun. many retailers opened thursday night. the shoppers might see shorter lines as the retail federation say says that to a amount of people shopping is down 21 million from last year. one of the places we will be watching is walmart where some workers across the country are expected to protest. expected to protest. i'm victor blackwell. that remain unanswered -- captions by vitac -- taking in tens of millions of dollars from well meaning americans, and what is happening to some of the money? there are a lot of good charities out there, but after what we found and you will see tonight, you may think twice about what you may think when somebody asks for a donation.
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that's a shame and that's why we're keeping them honest. starting with the group the disabled veterans national foundation, dvnf. that's their seal you're looking at. according to their own tax filings they raised nearly $56 million in the past three years, a huge amount of money. of that $56 million, we haven't been able to find even one dime that's gone directly to help disabled veterans. instead, the foundation sends tons of stuff, stuff they get for free, to veterans groups. now, the stuff they sent hasn't been even requested by these veterans groups. it's not even stuff the groups can use, thousands of bags of coconut m & ms. stuff sits in boxes until they figure out what to do with them. what do you do with 11,000 bags of m & ms, hundreds of pairs of surplus navy dress shoes this organization sent to a group, the group that got the shoes actually tried to sell them at a yard sale to raise money for the things they actually needed. cnn's drew griffin has tracked down the president of the dvnf to try to get some answers. here's how that went. >> you're the one from cnn. >> reporter: that's right. >> i really didn't think you'd do something like this. we've agreed to talk to you. >> reporter: nobody's agreed.
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so here is the question. it's $64 million raised over three years and none of the money has gone to any veterans. >> thank you so much. >> reporter: ma'am? >> he hasn't agreed to talk to them. still no answer. the courts investigating the dvnf, we uncovered another charity that asks you to help veterans by opening your wallet but uses only a small percentage of it to actually help veterans. they call themselves the national veterans foundation but there's a connection to the dvnf. they use the same fund-raising company and in both cases, that is where the trail of your money seems to lead. drew griffin is on that trail. >> reporter: the 27-year-old national veterans foundation would like you to believe it takes your money and puts it right back into its unique program, a national hotline to help veterans with anything. but cnn's investigation has found something the nvf likely doesn't want you to know. most of your contributions went to pay the private fund-raisers they hired.
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>> charity watch gives the national veterans foundation an "f" grade. they're only spending 12% on charitable programs. it's costing them $91 to raise $100. >> reporter: daniel borikoff grades charities based on their tax filings. those filings show over the past three years the nvf has taken in $22.3 million in donations and paid out $18.2 million to its fund-raisers brickmill and the parent company quadriga art. but he says the filings show a common tactic used by charities. part of the money paid brickmill was designated in tax filings to pay for educational awareness, promotional materials. those solicitations for
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donations that tell you all about the struggles vets have and why you should donate, that's the educational awareness and promotion material. >> the accounting is somewhat confusing to the public and so they could get tricked if they look at these tax forms or look at these superficial reviews of charities on the internet because what they're doing is they're calling that solicitation that makes you aware of the injured veteran a charitable program, but that's not what people want to pay for. people want to pay to offer substantial aid or assistance to wounded veterans. that's not what's happened. >> the hotline is run out of an office in this building near los angeles international airport. the group told us they wouldn't speak on camera. we decided to go see them anyway. hey, rich. >> hi. you drew? >> reporter: yeah. just wanted to ask you one more time if we can chat. >> as we said, we've told you, we've made our statements. we've given them to you and we won't give any on camera. >> reporter: so you won't tell me what you told me on the phone on camera, that you're
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disappointed in this brickmill and quadriga? >> i believe if you read our statements it will cover everything that i've said and anything that you were -- any questions you have. >> reporter: it didn't. that's why i'm here. can we take some -- >> we prefer not on this subject. >> reporter: rich rudnick is the operations director for nvf and over the phone told us the charity hired brickmill and quadriga in 2008. that was to start a new donations campaign. we were told for two years it would be very expensive, then we'd be going into the black. that never happened, he told us over the phone. but in person, neither rudnick nor its president shad meshad a man paid $121,000 a year would tell us anything. can we take photos of the guys answering the phone? this is a toll free line, but we prefer not on this trip. >> reporter: all right.
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well, listen, thanks a lot. and shad is not around? >> he's never here in the mornings. >> reporter: shortly after the door closed on our cameras, cnn received this statement from the national veterans foundation saying, knowing what nvf knows now, it would not have entered into a six-year contract with quadriga and brickmill. the national veterans association says it is now trying to terminate that contract which doesn't end for another two years. so what does quadriga art say? it did what it was supposed to do, increasing the donor base by 700,000 people. but even quadriga art admitted to cnn the fund-raising efforts did not prove as financially viable as the client had hoped. they, too, want to end the contract. and despite brickmill and its parent company getting paid more than $18 million, quadriga art said it actually lost money. daniel borikoff says baloney. >> we have to ask, why is this going on? who's benefitting other than the fund-raising company?
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>> drew griffin joins me now, also ken berger. he is the director of charity watchdog group. i have to say i just find this unbelievable. drew, i applaud your reporting on this because this is outrageous. if people knew these organizations -- first of all, that first organization has not sent any money directly to disabled veterans and this one -- how much did that guy say, 81 cents on the dollar goes to the fund-raising organization? >> that's absolutely right. that's what is heartbreaking here because behind all these donations are americans who really want to help these veterans. that's why this is so disheartening. they're opening up their wallets, thinking they are doing good and putting in money directly into the hands of a for-profit money that's making a killing. >> you go to that office, they have an american flag, p.o.w./m.i.a. flag. if they cared about veterans, they should shut that organization down. if they're not happy with this contract they stupidly signed with this fund-raising company, shut it down.
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how do they sleep at night? i mean, i know you can't answer that question, but i would like to know. how do these people sleep at night? the kinds of contracts signed by nvf and in the other instance disabled national veterans foundation, they're long, seems like they're hard to break. why go down that road? simply to expand their mailing list? >> here's what we found out in our reporting. some of quadriga art and brickmill's contracts with really big charitable organizations are specifically detailed with money amounts included, all kind of contract obligations that both sides have to meet, very specific. these contracts with these two groups that we're talking about, they're rather loose, not too much specific. it seems like quadriga art is driving the legal paperwork here and these charities are simply -- i don't want to put words in their mouth, but they look to me like they've been duped.
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>> ken, you monitor these charities. do you agree these are folks who have maybe been duped? do you advise that charities sign these contracts with a marketing firm like quadriga art? >> we say avoid them like the plague. we see this happening over and over again. >> this is not a surprise to you. >> no. in fact, we have plenty of zero rated groups, veterans, police, firefighters, the people who risk their lives in this country. and the charities associated with them, we see a preponderance of this in those kind of groups, that they sign these kinds of contracts and whether it's consciously or whether they're ignorant and are volunteers who are well intentioned, well, even if it's 99 cents to raise a dollar, that's still a penny. >> even if someone is naive, i question how well intentioned anybody can be if they're spending 99 cents to raise $1. that is outrageous. >> it is.
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it's horrific. there's no excuse for it. that's why our advice is to avoid these kind of arrangements like the plague. and if you're a donor, you should run with fear. >> how much should a charity, if they have a marketing firm, be paying out of $1 they raise? >> we generally say 10 cents on a dollar is the reasonable amount. the best charity, whether internal or through an external source, 10 cents on the dollar. that is what we see from the higher performers. >> there are so many good-hearted people, the fact dvnf made so much money, shows americans are good hearted. what should people look for before giving money? >> make sure the group is transparent. one of the things right away we say is, if you contact a group, call a group and they refuse to talk too you, whether the media or individual, be very afraid. >> anybody out there who wants to give money should go to charity navigator and really just you'll get a sense of what other good groups are out there that help vets or police or firefighters or any other charity. >> yes. >> appreciate it, ken. drew, again, we'll keep on this. unbelievable.
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it's mind-boggling. again, if you're looking for reputable veterans charities, go to our web site, or we will have a link to charity navigator on our website as well. we should add that the national veterans foundation' contract with quadriga art ends next year and they don't plan on renewing it. when our special report continues, a charity that gets at your purse strings by tugging at your heart strings. after all, what could be more heart warming than reuniting combat vets with their service dogs? well, there is a big catch, and we'll tell you about it next. with verizon. hurry in this friday for great deals.
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just unroll it, fill, top, bake, and present. that must have taken you forever! it was really tough. [ female announcer ] pillsbury pie crust. let the making begin "the battlefield at home" continues. i want to introduce you to a woman who is making money and playing to your heartstrings by playing to your patriotism. her name is terri crisp. she runs a charity that claims to reunite military dogs with personnel they served with overseas. what could be more heartwarming and patriotic than that? the program called baghdad pups and spca international were all about helping the troops. this is what she said. she spoke to about her
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charity. >> we've become real attached to the fact that military personnel love their animals and we want to do everything we can to keep them together. >> sounds great. she sounds nice, right? noble thing to do, right? well, that would be if in fact that is what terri crisp is doing. instead, keeping them honest, drew griffin found out only a slim fraction of the $27 million she raised could even possibly have gone toward rescuing dogs. >> reporter: it is the televised appeal on cnn's hln -- >> our salute to the troops today is actually live in the studio. >> reporter: -- that so many of you found outrageous. >> sitting beside nugget is terri with the spca and ivy is at my feet. >> reporter: march of 2011, terri crisp with spca international was telling our viewers ivy and nugget -- >> just look at that face! >> reporter: -- were two bomb-sniffing dogs who had worked for a u.s. contractor in iraq and had been essentially abandoned by the company. she rescued them. and was trying to find them homes.
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along for the visit was an unwitting retired military dog handler. robin meade understandably couldn't believe the story. >> so how is it that they fall through the cracks and get stranded there? that's unthinkable to me. >> it is unthinkable. that's why spca international is making sure that these dogs are not forgotten and get brought home. >> reporter: it turns out ivy and nugget were not abandoned. they were donated, taken from their adoptive homes in iraq, a military contractor tells cnn, after terri crisp asked for them. the military contractor reed security told cnn they had no idea crisp would use ivy and nugget as fund-raising tools in the united states. for weeks cnn has been trying to track down crisp. first we were told by her spokesperson she was unavailable. we drove to terri crisp's rural home down this dirt road in the sierra nevada and found crisp driving straight toward us. ms. crisp?
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it's drew griffin with cnn. we'd sure like to talk to you. terri crisp, dog in hand, got out of her car and walked right up to our camera and acted like she was going to answer my questions. >> this is not the place to do an interview. >> reporter: well, what is the place? we've been trying to get an interview with you for a long, long time, specifically to ask you about operation baghdad pups. >> stephanie scott, our director of communications, has communicated with you directly. >> reporter: i understand that. can you tell us why you came on cnn and basically lied to our viewers about ivy and nugget? >> you need to talk to stephanie. >> reporter: i think you need to talk to our viewers and explain what operation baghdad pups is all about because it appears to be a fund-raising effort for your lifestyle and quadriga art quite frankly. >> like i said, you just need to contact stephanie. all of our interviews are coordinated through her. we've offered to do them with you. >> reporter: you've been on our
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air, ma'am. you've told our viewers that ivy and nugget were abandoned military contracting dogs which we've confirmed they were not. basically lying to our viewers. i know you got an outpouring of support and most likely money after that appearance, and our viewers feel like, and so do we -- cnn feels like we were lied to. do you have any explanation how that happened? >> like i said, this is not the time and place. we're happy to talk to you. everything has to be coordinated through our director of communications. >> reporter: crisp is part of spca international, a group raising millions of dollars with its sympathetic fund-raising campaign called baghdad pups. according to these irs tax filings spca international has taken in more than $26 million in donations over the past three years. $23 million of that money has gone right into the coffers of the direct mail company quadriga art, not toward rescuing
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military dogs. what has it done with the rest of the remaining 3 million? spca international says it rescued about 447 soldiers' pets from iraq and afghanistan. but bob ottenhoff, the president of the charity watchdog group guidestar says that the numbers just don't seem to add up. >> i can't understand how to connect the dots between how much money is spent on fund-raising to how much money is spent on programming and what the sources of those revenues are, and i also can't really measure the impact of this organization. what difference are they really making? >> reporter: and this isn't the first time terri crisp has been at the center of a questionable charitable fund-raising drive involving animals. in 2005, after hurricane katrina, she showed up on tv stations and networks, including cnn, claiming to be rescuing stranded animals as part of her animal rescue charity called noah's wish.
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this is a former bookkeeper for noah's wish who wants to conceal her identity, unrelated to her work at the charity. she says she watched soon after katrina as the donations came pouring in. >> there was cash. there were checks. there were cashier's checks. there were letters, heartbreaking letters, from kids that, instead of having birthday parties, they wanted all the money to go to noah's wish to help those poor little animals. on a given day, we would have, oh, my gosh, easily $20,000. >> reporter: wow. >> yeah. just in checks. >> reporter: and, she says, suddenly terri crisp changed, hiring her daughter and acting as if the money was hers to keep. >> they did. they did. terri at one time said, i've worked so hard for so many years doing animal rescue, i am entitled to this money. >> reporter: salaries? >> yes. six-digit salaries.
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>> reporter: for mom and daughter. >> for mom and daughter. >> reporter: the bookkeeper and others went to california's attorney general which investigated. the noah's wish organization signed a settlement agreement with the state agreeing to forfeit $4 million and terri crisp was banned from being an officer or director of any charity for five years. >> reporter: let me ask you about noah's wish which you're no longer with. >> i can't talk about that either. >> reporter: terri crisp politely refused to talk about anything. when you were the director of noah's wish, did you pay yourself a six-figure salary along with your daughter? >> i'm not going to talk about that. >> reporter: you did, didn't you? >> i didn't set up my salary. it was done by the board of directors. >> reporter: crisp maintains she is now just an employee of spca international, not a director. and by not talking she's just following orders. >> reporter: i'll give you one more opportunity to explain why you came on cnn and basically
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lied about those two quote unquote military contract dogs. >> well, like i said, we would be happy to do an interview, but we have procedures in place, and everything has to go through stephanie. and we have been in communication with you and we have provided you with lots of information, and you have taken a lot of that information and not reported it correctly. >> reporter: now's your chance, ma'am. >> i would love to. but, as i said, i'm an employee of spca international. >> reporter: how much do you make? >> not a lot for what i do. >> reporter: will you give me a figure? >> no. i can't answer any of your questions. i'd love to. >> drew griffin, cnn. we'll follow the trail of money and coconut m & ms to the source and ask the supplier how he thinks these are actually helping vets. keeping them honest.
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thanksgiving weekend, at sleep train. ♪ sleep train ♪ your ticket to a better night's sleep ♪ we're talking about the challenges that americans' combat veterans face when they get home and the questionable charities raising money they say to help. keeping them honest, it is an empty promise. following the money and the donated goods. remember the coconut m&ms and the useless knickknacks that we mentioned at the top? the outfit that supplied them to the foundation also counts spca international as a client. you heard about them a moment ago. when drew griffin paid them a visit, he found items that could help vets, but he also found a lot of useless so-called gifts in kind, including the candy
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that doesn't melt in your hand, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. >> reporter: roy tidwell runs charity services international, a for-profit warehouse and distribution center in south carolina. >> we send out to hundreds of different organizations. we send on behalf of our charities out to these organizations. we just handle the shipping. >> reporter: among his 50 clients are the spca international and the disabled veterans national foundation. one supposedly helping pets, the other vets. and both, as we previously reported, taking in millions in donations while giving out almost nothing in cash. what they do give away is stuff, like the stuff j.d. simpson showed us the disabled veterans national foundation sent his homeless veterans shelter in alabama. he got hundreds of pairs of shiny navy dress shoes, some emergency blankets, some broken furniture, and lots and lots of coconut m & ms. >> didn't have a lot of use for 11,520 bags of coconut m & ms.
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>> u.s. vets a charity in prescott, arizona, got an even stranger shipment from dvnf, chefs coats and football pants. roy tidwell says he arranged the shipments and insists both of these charities knew what he was sending and they wanted it. >> the group that got the chefs coats have no idea why they got them. zero idea. and football pants -- you think that there's a homeless veterans football team out there? >> absolutely. >> reporter: you do? >> absolutely. there's 300-bed transitional -- >> reporter: there's a league of homeless veterans playing minor league football? >> i don't doubt that homeless vets play football, basketball. >> reporter: i'm sure. but you know i talked to those people. they said they didn't need this stuff. >> they didn't need it then they shouldn't have approved the inventory when they got it. it doesn't just show up. >> reporter: actually according to u.s. vets, the group in arizona, those football pants and everything else did just
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show up. we did not request chefs coats, hats, football pants or anything from charity services international, the group tells cnn. and u.s. vets has officially requested dvnf and charity services international not to ship to us any more gifts in kind. as for the coconut m & ms, j.d. simpson said he did get an e-mail that candy was on the way. he didn't think much of it until 11,000 bags, one-half ton of coconut m & ms arrived. chef coats and football pants and coconut m & ms may just be about worthless to homeless vets, but to the charities that sent them, they have real value. value that seems incredibly inflated when they are written down on charity tax returns. take the spca international, a group that's raised $27 million to supposedly help soldiers and their pets. the group's manager wouldn't
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tell us anything about the money. >> no, i'm not going to reveal that. none of it. i can't answer any of your questions right now. believe me, i would love to. >> reporter: but on its tax returns, we did learn about a shipment of animal medicines the spca international donated to an animal welfare group in nepal. cnn was provided with the invoice. it shows an itemized list of drugs that the charity values at $816,000, a huge gift in kind. but when the gift arrived in nepal, the charity receiving the drugs valued them for customs purposes at a mere $2,500. tidwell arranged the shipment. how can it be $816,000 here and $2,500 there? >> the value that's placed on something according to law is placed according to the exit market. it would be what you would have to pay for it in the place that
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it's exiting. and the -- the fact that they might be able to purchase similar medicines made in a backroom in nepal for a far lower price doesn't change the value of the medicines that are u.s. produced. >> but $816,000 versus $2,500? that seems crazy out of whack. >> that's outrageous. >> reporter: that didn't sound right so we cross-checked the bill of lading against the international drug pricing guide, which values drugs for nonprofit donation. according to our calculation, the charity in nepal had it just about right. $2,600, each pill worth less than 2 cents. >> how can i explain that? i can't. but i could go in and dig into it and try to explain it. >> reporter: he never got back to us but in an e-mail spca
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international says it follows industry standards and accounting regulations on placing values on donating goods. lou hingson who runs brother's brother in pittsburgh says he's seen many charities en flat values of gifts in kind. why? to trick donors. >> that means that they can declare a lower overhead cost, they can claim more effect to the public than the real dollars might indicate. >> reporter: here are the numbers. in its 2011 tax return, dvnf reported $29 million in cash donations but also said it received and then donated nearly $9 million of gifts in kind. spca international received $14 million in cash donations and received and then shipped $5 million of gifts in kind. the only actual cash money involved in the gifts was the $500,000 roy tidwell was paid to arrange the shipment.
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>> it's a very simplistic answer to say why don't they give away money? >> but when they're collecting tens of millions of dollars, it seems a logical question to ask. >> my portion of it is getting goods to help people who are suffering. goods that i can deliver for pennies on the dollar. and most places that get them are very appreciative. >> reporter: even if it is 11,000 bags of coconut m & ms. >> drew, it just defies logic this guy can go on air and say he's providing a valuable service like shipping m & ms to charities that clearly don't need nor want them. >> doesn't make any sense to the state of south carolina either, anderson. that's where tidwell's company is based. the secretary of state's office is now investigating that business, specifically asking him to provide all of the contracts that he has with these charities and spelling out what he's doing. >> also because of your reporting the senate finance committee is actually opening an
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investigation into some of these charities, right? >> yes. there's been a huge development there. it's focusing on the for-profit end of this, the fund-raising company connected with so many of these charities, quadriga art. we've talked about them before, the company that is actually making tens of millions of dollars in the charity business. well, the senate finance committee which began looking into these charities after our reporting is expanding its investigation looking right at quadriga art. anderson, that company has refused to talk to us. we've learned they're going to be called on to answer questions from the senate investigators who want to know just what we all want to know -- how can so much money be donated and hardly any of it go to veterans, animals, or the people it was intended for? >> unbelievable. drew, stick around. just ahead, what drew found when he went looking for answers at a charity called help hospitalized veterans. it claims its mission is to help sick and wounded warriors, but it is accused of misleading the
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irs and donors of where its fund s actually go.
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a "360" special report, "the battlefield at home" is a window into how some charities are cashing in by exploiting the plight of veterans and who wants to help them. the charity we talk about next does a great job running the charity and paying the people that run it. s as for actual ly helping the people they are claiming to h p help, the wounded warriors,
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well, that is another question. here's drew griffin. >> reporter: help hospitalized veterans say it's all about raising the morale of our sick and wounded troops by passing out these kits to help in their recovery. but now california authorities are seeking to make their own recovery. the civil penalties of more than $4 million for misrepresentations in soliciting. california says this charity paid excessive salaries, perks and conducted illegal deals with donated money, all for the benefit of some board members and officers. >> it is a shell game. and i think what we've seen at the end of the day is instead of focusing their intellectual efforts and energies and energies of the corporation on getting money to help the folks who are in need of help, our injured veterans, instead they spend all of their energy, effort and time on these shell games to move money around in order to benefit themselves. >> reporter: according to the charity's latest filings, the
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president of hhv, michael lynch, was paid a salary of $389,000, and that's just the start. in its complaint, california authorities say money donated for hospitalized veterans also paid for memberships in these two country clubs near lynch's home. a cost of $80,000. donated funds paid for this condominium near washington, d.c., for the use of charity executives. according to the complaint, while help hospitalized veterans has been raking in millions of dollars, 65 million in just the past two years, according to tax returns, the charity has misled the irs and its donors about where the funds actually go. we know 44 million has gone to fund-raising. the charity says it spent 16 million on these kits for veterans. but the california attorney general's office questions the charity's accounting. >> there have been a number of misstatements to the irs and other regulators in order to
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suggest that the corporation is much more efficient than it in fact is. >> reporter: and it's not the first time the allegations have been made. california congressman henry waxman has been trying to sound the alarm on help hospitalized veterans since 2008. >> as far as i'm concerned, they ought to be put in jail. it's so terrible what they're doing, using the plight of our veterans to make themselves rich and preying upon the good, well-meaning americans who want to help veterans and are willing to contribute to that kind of cause. >> reporter: the state of california now wants all of the charity's board members fired, including the president mike lynch. hello! mr. lynch! we approached lynch at his rural home near his operation's headquarters. he told us we were the first to bring him the news of the california complaint and said he would have something to say the next day.
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all right, we'll see you tomorrow. >> okay. >> reporter: in the morning, mike lynch was at his office, telling us as soon as he talks with his lawyers he'd be happy to answer questions. mr. lynch, drew griffin. >> hi, how are you? >> reporter: i'm sure you're aware of the serious charges being waged against you. >> not yet. i'm waiting to speak to the attorneys. so as soon as i speak with joe and them when they call this morning, be happy to speak with you. >> reporter: four hours later, michael lynch said this. >> i have a statement that i have prepared. it says, we hope that these unproven allegations will not diminish the more than 40 years of service hhv has provided to our nation's most treasured asset, our veterans. we hope this action will not impede its ability to provide support to hospitalized veterans nationwide. thank you very much. >> reporter: well, i've got to ask you about the money, though.
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i mean, that doesn't answer any of the questions about the money that -- that's it? that's all you guys are going to say? >> drew, the california attorney general has filed a civil complaint against the group saying the leaders in the charity engage in fraudulent fund-raising and unlawful activities. have they responded to the complaint? >> they have. since walking away from us in the office, michael lynch and other defendants in the complaint with the state of california have denied the allegations against them. the case is moving through the california's courts, and get this, anderson, the group help hospitalized veterans continues to accept donations. >> unbelievable. drew, thanks. "the battlefield at home" continues. ahead, vets who have risked their lives for the country find themselves facing another battle on the home front, the fight to get their disability benefits they say they're entitled to. the doctors have vouched, the paperwork filed. what's the holdup? well, we're keeping them honest. was about...i would say... two months ago. i very rarely put gas in my chevy volt.
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welcome back to "battlefield at home." this special about charities accused of lining their own pockets at the expense of the veterans they purport to help. now another report about veterans having to fight for the disability benefits they say they're entitled to. they've risked their lives for their country but now find themselves doing battle with the very agency that's supposed to take care of them. here's randi kaye. >> reporter: mike rioux can't go to the grocery store without making a list even for just one item. he can't drive without gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turn white. and he can't stand longer than 30 minutes because of severe back pain. this is mike rioux's life post-afghanistan. >> i need to discover who i am again.
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i'm not asking for help for the rest of my life. i want to feel like i matter. >> reporter: mike's wife maggie says her husband returned from war a shell of the man he once was. gone was the fun loving, free-spirited laid-back guy he used to be. war, she says, changed him. he still has ringing in the ears from explosions. he also suffers from vertigo, headaches and has terrible anxiety. we saw it firsthand during our interview. mike was so anxious he could hardly sit still. we met at mike rioux's mother's house near phoenix, arizona, where he, his wife and daughter have been living for the last year and a half. maggie and their daughter share a bedroom, and mike sleeps every night on the living room couch. what is it like for you at 51 to be sleeping on your mother's couch? >> ashamed.
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i feel low. i feel how can i support my family, let alone get them a house. >> reporter: mike doesn't have the money for a place of their own. he can't work. fire fights and an ied blast in afghanistan left him with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. maggie isn't working either so she can look after him. the money is running out and they find themselves fighting a battle they never expected like hundreds of thousands of veterans. one they frankly can't believe. they are fighting for benefits from the department of veteran affairs. >> i thought they were there to help us. if it wasn't for my wife, i would be in the fetal position. i'd be curled up in a ball. i couldn't do it. >> mike has been trying to get his disability claim processed
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for nearly two years. there has been lost paperwork, long wait times for appointments and erroneous lab results. when mike was prescribed medication, it was for a bladder infection, he didn't have. he filed his claim right back after got from afghanistan. in september 2011, he was told to expect a decision by the end of the yore. that deadline came and went. keeping them honest, we asked veterans affairs assistant secretary tommy sauers, why veterans who risked their lives for this country are waiting months and even years for disability, and despite eric shinseki's promises?
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secretary of shinseki said he wanted to have claims resolved in no more than 120 days with 98% accuracy. why hasn't that been done yet? >> this is a decade problem in the making. we are transitioning from the pap paper-based system to an electronics system. and a huge undertaking. >> is the current back lock of claims unacceptable? >> it is unacceptable, and we know that. we do. >> unacceptable. yet, more then a year after mike filed his claim, he was still waiting. we interviewed 16 other veterans. all waited many months to get a simple disability claim resolved. in many cases more than a year. they said they weren't helped quickly enough with serious health issues related to ptsd.
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in one case a veteran called the suicide hotline, and they said they would call him back. they never did. 66% of vets have been waiting longer of the goal of 125 days. worse? more than 228,000 claims have been pending one year or more. on average, the v.a. says veterans wait 256 days before their claim is resolved. paul reichoff, the founder of iraq and afghanistan veterans of america says that the troops are tired of the rhetoric. >> there is a difference of the speak you get from bureaucrats in washington and the reality on the ground. the guys and gals don't care how many bureaucrat there are, pilot studies, how much is being spent. they care if they have a decision back from the v.a. >> there is a saying about the v.a. and you might have heard it that the v.a.'s policy is delay,
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deny until we die. what is your response to that? >> i would say there are many veterans out there that love their v.a. care. >> the assistant secretary says the v.a. is on track to paid $5 billion. and many veterans are returning with severe and complex mental injuries and sometimes file incomplete paperwork. the backlog also increased when thousands of vets were finally allowed to file claims for agent orange and gulf war syndrome. on june 27th this year, mike finally got word his disability claim had been processed. 18 months after he had filed. mike was awarded only 40% disability, which works out to $659 per month. he got credit for ptsd, but even though he'd been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury by
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a doctor at the v.a. he was denied coverage for it. like so many years, mike and maggie plan to appeal the disability rating. a process that could set them back another two years in getting their case resolved. >> he could have been killed. every time i spoke to him on the phone, i thought this might be the last time i might hear his voice. our relationship has had to take a hit. >> that's another dimension. >> i'm married to a different man now. i love him, as much as i've always loved him, but he's different. >> different in a way that maggie and mike hope to make the v.a. understand, that $659 per month in disability certain doesn't cover the price they have paid for war. >> randi, what about mike and his wife, maggie, what has
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happened to them? >> good news. the v.a. actually turned around and awarded mike full disability and are working out details on how the family will receive more financial help. what's more, some viewers who watched our story decided to personally help mike and maggie and have offered them some small funds as well. so the couple is now beginning to process all of this and to try to find a house on their own. >> we wish them the best. randi, thank you. we will be right back. ♪ if you'd like to try and guess ♪ ♪ it is something very special ♪ i would readily confess [ dogs barking ] ♪ 'cause all i want this season ♪ ♪ is something from your heart ♪ la da da, la da da [ male announcer ] thinking of others this holiday season, travelers.
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