Tag Archives: war

Which nonprofits serving military veterans are worthwhile?

logoI get asked this question now and again, and I see this question posted in various places:

I want to donate money to help USA military veterans and their families. Which nonprofits are really worthwhile?

Sadly, I have trouble answering the question, because there are just too many news articles about very shady happenings by organizations claiming to help military veterans, such as this story from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, another one from Cooper, this one from the Daily Beast, this one from Veterans Today, and this from the Tampa Bay Times. I also find the TV commercials of several of these organizations emotionally-manipulative, as though donating to their organization proves your patriotism.

I’m not going to name any of the organizations in question, but it’s worth it to click on those previously-mentioned links and see the organization names yourself – some will be very recognizable.

Here are some questions you can use as you look at a web site to help you evaluate an organization that claims to help military veterans and their families:

  • Does this organization have a prominent link right on the home page for veterans or families of such in need of services – a link as prominent as its links for financial donors? If not, then it’s a red flag: how can an organization say it serves veterans or families of such but not have an obvious way for people to seek services? If it does have a link, click on it. Does the organization have just one page that talks about vague benefits – events, discounts, camaraderie, etc. – rather than concrete service information like mental health services / counseling, rehabilitation resources, accommodation adjustments in housing, debt management, help with government paperwork, job re-training, etc.? In short: pretend you are a veteran or family member in need and look at the web site from that perspective, then ask yourself this question: are you able to find information about services you urgently need?
  • Does the organization list its services as, primarily, directing veterans and their families to other agencies to help with health services, rehabilitation, job placement, etc. – or does the organization actually provide those services directly? If the former, your donation might be better going directly to those organizations that actually provide the services, since the organization is just referring people other organizations.
  • Does the organization say, right on the home page, that it involves volunteers? If no, that’s a red flag – why would a nonprofit not involve volunteers? Are they hiding something? If they do have such a link to volunteering information, do volunteers help in direct service, or do volunteers help just with fundraising? If the former, that’s a good sign that this is a legitimate organization, as they have a commitment to members of the public seeing their work firsthand – they value that kind of investment in their work. If the latter, then that’s a red flag: this organization sees volunteers only as fundraisers, as money-makers. There’s nothing wrong with volunteers being fundraisers, but if that’s the ONLY way the organization involves volunteers, it may mean the organization is concerned only with raising large amounts of money.
  • Does the organization provide an accounting of how it spends money, beyond saying, “80% of money raised goes to services”? For instance, what percentage of the organization’s staff is working in direct support to veterans and their families, versus staff working to raise funds, manage volunteers that raise funds, marketing staff, etc.?

Those are my suggestions of questions to ask before you donate financially to an organization that claims to help veterans and their families.

So, can I recommend any organization myself as one I would donate to (and maybe I have donated to)? Yes. I recommend the USO.

My job: reading the consequences of war

A lot of my current job is reading large volumes of text and then trying to synthesize them down to something smaller, easier to understand and quicker to read, for various reports, web pages, etc.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading a lot about what’s happening to people that have fled the violence in Eastern Ukraine, and people who have remained behind, as well as what life is like for Crimean Tatars and others that have had to flee Crimea. I haven’t cited all of my sources below – there are just too many. There’s no one comprehensive report on this crisis – yet. But all of the following is easily verifiable using news and humanitarian reports, all publicly available online:

In the areas of armed conflict, homes, buildings, roads and bridges, electricity, and water systems and other basic infrastructure are often severely wrecked. Heating systems are needed and sanitation is poor, access to medical and social services is inadequate, and access to food remains a concern. Many of those that have stayed behind are the elderly or people with disabilities. And winter is coming… many of those who have stayed behind, regardless of their politics, are experiencing not only the threat of violence, but also abduction, extortion and harassment. Many people, especially men, have disappeared without a word to family, and it’s not known if they’ve are being held somewhere or if they have been killed.

And that’s for the people that dare to try to stay in areas affected by war. Around 15,000 Crimeans of mainly Crimean Tatar ethnicity (80%) are now internally-displaced people (IDPs) and have sought refuge in the Ukraine mainland, mainly in the west. As of 8 August 2014, UNHCR reported a total of 125,032 from Eastern Ukraine, but this is probably way too low – there’s no widespread systemic way right now to register IDPs. A needs assessment conducted by OCHA in June 2014 indicates that a total of 1.52 million people may leave the Eastern regions of Ukraine, should armed conflict and violence continue, let alone escalate. Some IDPs are living in collective shelters, which were built for youth summer camps, and their numbers in those shelters are far beyond what buildings were constructed for. These shelters often do not have heating systems. And winter is coming…

IDPs usually do not have the appropriate paperwork they need to register for government services or to get a job in their new location. They can’t access their bank accounts because such have been frozen by the government here or in Russia, depending on where they have their money. IDPs have great difficulties to get legal services for protection from civil and criminal issues. Gender-based violence is on the increase, and largely unreported. There is a HUGE need to provide services to those IDPs who are suffering from psychological disorientation, alienation and stress. Communities where IDPs are living are starting to become wary of them, as any community does of people they perceive as outsiders: misunderstandings and misinformation about IDPs abound, and there is a growing need to promote respect and tolerance among everyone, through deliberate, facilitated community dialogue and communication – the stuff some people call touchy feel-y, but that I think prevents violence, even civil war.

And all of these problems are growing, every day, as conflict continues.

There are a lot of reasons the United Nations has been in Ukraine for so long – but this new, more urgent reason, is why I’m here, albeit oh-so-briefly. Such a huge challenge… so huge…

If you are saying, “I want to help Ukraine! How do I do that?” I think donating financially to any UN agency that accepts financial donations, such as the World Food Programme or UNICEF or UNFPA, and saying you are doing so for Ukraine, would be awesome. These agencies provide both direct service through their own staff and through local Ukrainian nonprofit/civil society organizations. Just please don’t send stuff – don’t collect t-shirts or baby supplies or what not if you are outside of Ukraine – it’s cheaper, more efficient, and better for local economies to buy things right here in country.