tv CNN Presents CNN November 10, 2012 8:00pm-9:00pm EST
>> i came back from the bathroom and said that colorado was still too close to call. nobody told me while i was in the bathroom colorado went for president obama. thanks, guys, i really appreciate it. >> reporter: one thing networks don't project are bathroom breaks. cnn, jeanne moos. >> good news for mitt romney, we can announce this, he has won most confederacy. >> we're just human, people. all right, see you at 10:00. thanks for watching. well will come to this "360" special report, the battlefield at home. the challenges facing vets, a tough economy, questionable charity and more. look at charities, organizations promising to help wounded warriors, taking in tens of millions of dollars from well-meaning americans. what's happening to some of that money? a lot of good charities out there, but after what we've found and what you see tonight, you may think twice the next time someone asks you for a donation. that's a shame and that's why
we're keeping them honest. starting with the group the disabled veterans national foundation, dvnf. 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, hdreds 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. >> you're the one from cnn. >> reporter: that's right. >> i really didn't think you'd do something like there. we've agreed to talk to you. >> reporter: nobody's agreed. 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 this. >> 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 that's where the trail of your money seems to lead. drew griffin is on that trail will. >> reporter: the 27-year-old national veterans association 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. >> 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 $1 $100. >> reporter: this man 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 of the parent company quadriga art. but he says it the filings show a common tactic, part of the money paid brickmill was designated in tax filings to pay for educational awareness promotional materials. those solicitations for
donations that tell you all about the strug ils 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 charitiable 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 rfrnlts the hotline is run out of a building in this billion near los angeles's 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 ha you told me on the phone on camera, that you're 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 ruddnick is the operations director for nvf and over the phone told us the charity hired brickmill and quadriga ain 2008. 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 where the toll free line comes? >> it is the toll free line and
we are busy and prefer not on this trip. >> reporter: all right. well, listen, thanks a lot. and shad is not around? >> it 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 r quadriga and brickmill. they're trying to terminate that contract which doesn't end for another two years. what does quadriga art say? it did what it was supposed to do, increasing the donor bias 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 will and its the parent company getting paid more than $18 million, quadriga art said it actually
lost money. >> we have to ask, why is this going on? who's benefitting other than the fund-raising company? >> drew griffin joins me now, also kenberger i have to say i just find this unbelievable. drew, i applaud your report ong this because this is outaijs. 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 fupd raind-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 an putting in any directly into the hands of a for-profit money that's making a killing. >> you go to that office, think 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. 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 the 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. >> 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 group, 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 kind of contracts and whether it's consciously or whether they're ignorant and 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 wil intention anybody can be if they're
raising 99 cents to raise $1. that's outrageous. >> it is. 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 te10 cents a dollar is the reasonable amount. the best charity, whether internal or through an external source, 10 cents on the dollar. >> there are so many good-hearted people,s the fact dnf 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 willa group an refuse to t 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. it's mind-boggling. again, if you're looking for reputable veterans charities, go to our web site, ac 360.com or charity navigator.org. 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 service members with their service dogs? well, there's a big catch. we'll tell you about it, next. why not make lunch more than just lunch?
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[ male announcer ] act for kids, with maximum fluoride for up to 40% fewer cavities act. stronger teeth and better checkups in every bottle. the battlefield at home continues. i want to introduce you to a woman who is playing to your patriotism. her name is terri crisp. she rubs a charity that claims to reunite military dogs with personnel they served with overseas. what could be more heart warmg and patriotic than that? the program called baghdad pugs
and spca international were all about helping the troops. this is what she said. >> we've become real attached to the fact that mill will tear personnel love their animals and we want with to do everything we can to deep them together. >> sounds great. she soubds nice,s right? noble thing to do, right the? well, that would be if in fact that is what terri crisp is going. 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. will. >> 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. >> stit 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. will she rescued them. will and was trying to find them homes. along for the visit was an unwitting retired 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 are making sure these dogs don't get forgotten and get the 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 noerm 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 spokespersonor she was unavailable.
we drove to terri crisp's rural home down this dirt road in sierra nevada and found crisp driving straight toward us. ms. crisp? 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 coscott, our direcr 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 air, ma'am. you've told our viewers that ivy and nugget were abandoned military contracting dogs which we'veconfirmed they were not. basically lying to our viewers. i know you got an outpouring of support and likely money after that appearance. our viewers and so do we, cnn feels like we were lied to. any explanation for 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 isnternational, 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 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 guidestar says 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. this is a former book keeper 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. >> 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 the 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 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. we've provided you with lots of information. and you've taken a lot of that information and not reported it correctly. >> reporter: now's your chance, ma'am. >> i would love to. but i said, i'm an employee of s is pca 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 50 of your questi -- any of your questions. i'd love to. we'll follow the trail will of money and coconut m & ms to the source and ask the supplier how he thinks these are actually helping vets. keeping them honest.
we're talking about the challenges that american 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. remember the m & ms and useless knickknacks 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. he also found a lot of useless so-called gifts in kind, including the candy that doesn't melt in your hand but might leave a bitter taste in your hand. >> 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. will he got hundreds of pairs of shiny navy dress shoes, some emergency blankets, some broken fufrnt, and lots and lots of coconut m & ms. >> didn't have a lot of use for 11,520 bags of co-nut m & ms. >> 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. and football pants? you think there's a homeless will veterans football team out there? >> absolutely. >> reporter: you do? >> absolutely. there's 300-bed transitional -- >> reporter: there's a minor 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 and they shouldn't have approved the ichbtory 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 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. will take the spca international, a group that's raised $27 million to supposedly help soldiers and their pets. the group's manager wouldn't 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 sho an itemized list of drugs that the charity values at $816,000, a huge gift in kind. but when the gift arrived in nep nepal, the charity receiving the drugs valued them for customs purposes at a mere $2,500. tidwell arpged 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 it's exiting.
and the -- the fact that they might be able to purchase similar medicines made in the 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. >> that's outrageous. >> reporter: that didn't sound right so we cross-checked the bill of laiding 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 international says it follows industry standards and
accounting regulations on placing values on donating goods. lieu kingston who runs brother's brother foundation says he's seen many charities inflate 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. >> 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 gone on air and saying he's providing a valuable service like shipping m & ms to charities that don't need or 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 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 to help sick and wounded warriors.
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hour. new details in the surprise resignation of david petraeus because of an extramarital affair. u.s. officials says the affair came to light because of an e-mail investigate by the fbi sparked by a complaint of harassing e-mails apparently sent by petraeus' auto biographer. nearly two weeks after superstorm sandy, frustration boiling over. nearly 280,000 people across the region still without power. jersey governor chris christie expects things to be back to normal for most of the nj will new jersey tomorrow. those are rur heyour headlines. i'm don lemon. see you back here at 10:00. jers. those are your headlines. i'm don lemon. see you back here at 10:00. tomo. those are your headlines. i'm don lemon. see you back here at 10:00.
p. a 360 special report, a 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. for the wounded warriors they claim to help, well, that's another question. here's drew griffin. >> reporter: help hospitalized veterans say it's all about raising the ma ral of our sick and wounded troops by passing out these kits. but now california authorities are seeking to make their own recovery. the civil penalties of more than $4 million for
misrepresentations in solic 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 chari charity's latest filings, the 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 clubses 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 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 playing 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 compliant and said he would have something to say the next day. 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 pray provided to our most valuable 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. will 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 have denied the allegations against them, the case moving through california's courts, get this, 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. not only that, we're using what we learn from these partners to shape our curriculum. so that when you find the job you want you'll be a perfect fit. let's get to work.
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we've been telling you in 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 kay. >> reporter: mike rio 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 it 30 minutes because of severe back pain. this is mike rio's life post-afghanistan. >> i need to discover who i am again. 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 rio'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.
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 the in it 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 like hundreds of thousands of other veterans find fiting a battle they never expected. one they frankly can't believe. they're fighting for benefits from the department of veterans affairs. >> i thought they were there to help us. you know, if it wasn't for my wife, i'd be in the fetal position. i'd be curled up in a ball. i couldn't do it. >> reporter: mike has been trying to get his disability claim processed for nearly two
years. there has been lost paperwork, long wait times for appointments, and erroneous lab results. when mike was prescribed some medication, it was for a bladder infection he didn't have. mike first filed his claim in january 2011, right after he got back from afghanistan. in august that same year, he learned his claim was finally in review. then in december 2011 he was told to expect a decision by the end of the year. that deadline came and went. keeping them honest, we asked veterans affairs assistant secretary tommy soeurs why veterans who risked their lives for this country are waiting months, even years, for disability. despite va secretary eric sin checky's promises for a quick turnaround on claims. the secretary says his goal will was to have claims resolved in no more than 125 days with 98%
accuracy. why hasn't that happened yet? >> well, again, this is a problem that has been decades in the making. we're transitioning from a paper-based system to an electronic system. and it's -- it is a huge amount -- it's a huge under taking and task. >> is the current backlog of claims acceptable? >> it is unacceptable, and we know that. will we do. >> reporter: unacceptable, yet more than a year after mike rioux filed his claim, he was still waiting. we interviewed 16 other veterans for this story. all of them told us they waited many months to get a simple disability claim resolved. in some cases more than a year. many of them also told us they weren't helped quickly enough with serious mental health issues related to ptsd. in one case, a veteran told us he had called the va suicide hotline and was told they would call him back. they never did. right now, according to the va, there are close to 900,000
claims pending. and of those 66% have been waiting longer than secretary sin checky's goal of 125 days. worse, more than 228,000 claims have been pending one year or more. on average, the va says veterans wait 256 days before their claim is resolved. paul ryke off, the founder of iraq and afghanistan veterans of america, says troops are tired of the rhetoric. >> there's a difference between the speak you get out of the bureaucrats in washington and the reality of what you see on the ground. the guys and gals on the ground don't care about how many bureaucrats there are, how many pilot studies there are, how much money have been spent. they care if they have a decision back from the va. >> there's a statement that their policy is delay, deny until we die. what is your response to that? >> i would say there are many
veterans out there who love their va care, that absolutely love it. will assistant secretary sewers says the va is on track to process 1 million claims this year and paid out nearly $5 billion in compensation last year. adding to delays, the va says many are returning with severe 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. finally mike got word that his disability claim had been processed 18 months after he'd followed. but mike was awarded only 40% disability, which works out to $659 a month. he got credit for his ptsd, but even though he had been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury by a doctor at the
va, he was dense edenied covera it. >> he has it, but it's zero. >> reporter: like so many others, mike and maggie plan to appeal their disability rating, a process that could set them back another two years in getting their case resolved. >> and he could have been killed. every time i spoke to him on the phone, i thought this might be the last time i hear his voice. and our relationship has had to take a hit. >> that's another dimension, yeah. >> you know, we -- i'm married to a different man now. i love him as much as i've always loved him, but he's different. >> reporter: different in a way maggie and mike hope to make the va understand. that $659 a month in disability certainly doesn't cover the price they've paid for war. >> randi, what about mike and maggie, what's happened to them? >> some good news actually for them and their case.
within days of our story airing, the va actually turned around and awarded mike full disability, and they are now working out details on how the family will will receive more financial help. what's more, though, is that 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, thanks. we'll be right back.