As the year draws to a close, there are no shortage of charities and other philanthropic organizations seeking financial support. Yet before the holiday distractions take hold, donors use this time of the year to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women serving in the U.S. military, and to support causes that help them when they return home.
One of the most important aspects to investigate before giving to a veterans' charity—or any charitable organization—is how much of the money donated actually goes to the cause being supported, and how much is earmarked for administrative expenses. Several services—such as Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Watch—provide information about a charity's functions, finances, and management. These three services happen to be free, although others charge both the site user and the charity to be rated.
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, says at least 75 percent of donations should go toward programs. "If a charity's financials show that just pennies on the dollar are going towards the programs they support, that's a red flag and you should probably direct your donations somewhere else," she says.
Below are some of the highest rated charities helping veterans groups and their families, according the Charity Navigator. Their ratings are based on financial health, accountability, and the transparency of reporting.
—By Susan Caminiti
Posted on 15 Nov. 2014
Military wives founded this organization in 2006 as they witnessed, first-hand, the effects of war on spouses and their families. The group's mission is to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty. Services include career transition and education programs, health and wellness counseling, and community building initiatives for military families as they transition into civilian life.
This 10-year-old organization serves the 2.4 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan from their first day home through the rest of their lives. Founded by an Iraq veteran, the group's mission is to provide new veterans with health, education, and employment support. IAVA also encourages ways for them to connect with other veterans in their area.
The USO (United Service Organizations) is a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress, but is not a part of the federal government. Since 1941, it has provided care packages, entertainment, and recreation-type services to military members and their families. It operates more than 135 centers worldwide, including 10 mobile canteens in the U.S. and overseas.
Services include free Internet and email access, libraries and reading rooms, housing assistance, family crisis counseling, support groups, game rooms and nursery facilities.
For over a century, this organization has provided financial assistance and education to members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and eligible family members, widows, and survivors. The group operates nearly 250 offices ashore and afloat at Navy and Marine Corps bases throughout the world and has provided more than $48 million in interest-free loans and grants to over 100,000 sailors, marines and their families around the world.
This organization, started by retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel John Folsom in 2003, helps the families of those men and women who have been wounded, injured or killed during combat operations. It provides, free of charge, family-friendly retreats where wounded veterans, spouses, and children can reconnect with each other in a low-stress setting that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
The goal is to offer these families a way to bond again and help heal the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted by war.
Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive-detection canines for law enforcement. The puppies live in prison with inmates from the age of eight weeks to 24 months. Once trained, the service dogs are placed, free of charge, with returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The dogs learn special commands to help mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Since 2008, the organization has paired 66 service dogs with wounded veterans in 26 states, and trained more than 350 explosive-detection dogs to work with law enforcement agencies around the country.
Helping severely injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan is the mission of Homes for Our Troops. Started in 2004, the organization builds mortgage-free and specially adapted houses for multiple amputees and veterans with traumatic brain injuries. It also adapts existing homes for handicap accessibility. Home for Our Troops has built nearly 170 homes since its founding, with another 50 currently underway.
This group supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs that provide direct service to ill, injured, or wounded veterans. The programs support everything from driver's rehabilitation services for veterans with traumatic brain injuries, to treatment for post-service mental health services.
The Trust also helps to fund programs that provide food, shelter, and other necessary items to homeless or at-risk veterans and their families.
This organization, started in 2006 by sisters Kelsi and Rachel Okun when they were mere children, distributes need-based college, technical, and vocational school scholarships to the children and spouses of active duty U.S. military members. Since it was founded the organization has awarded 3,500 scholarships totaling almost $10 million.
Started in 1990, this organization is best known for its network of comfort homes where military and veterans' families can stay at no cost, while a loved one is receiving treatment. The homes are at major military and VA medical centers nationwide, close to the medical center or hospital they serve. The foundation has served over 220,000 families since it started, and can accommodate a total of 832 families a day nationwide.