TAMPA — In the wake of multiple investigations into the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, Sen. Jim Webb asked the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday to review how it checks out the veterans service organizations the VA lists on its website.
"It stands to reason that veterans have a reasonable expectation of legitimacy and credibility if such an organization is listed on your official website, regardless of official endorsement,'' Webb said in his letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Webb, a Virginia Democrat and longtime veterans advocate, told Shinseki of multiple state investigations into the Navy Veterans and said it is "disconcerting" to see the organization listed on the VA's Directory of Veterans Service Organizations.
"I know you share my concern that we should minimize the opportunity for unscrupulous organizations to mislead or exploit our nation's veterans,'' Webb wrote.
The Navy Veterans Association advertises itself on its own Web site as "a nationally recognized U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Service Organization, one of only 147 nationwide so recognized."
The senator's action was sparked by recent St. Petersburg Times stories that questioned the nonprofit's legitimacy.
Founded in Tampa in 2002, the group bills itself as a national organization with 66,000-plus members and dozens of state chapters across the country that give tens of millions of dollars of assistance to military personnel, veterans and their families.
But of the 85 officers the group listed on its tax returns, the Times could find only one. Its officers, directors and auditors were nowhere to be found, its gifts mostly undisclosed, its records kept secret.
The only officer that could be found is Bobby Thompson. After the newspaper began asking questions, he cleared out of his $600-a-month Ybor City duplex and left his landlord no forwarding address.
Regulators in Florida, New Mexico, Missouri and Hawaii have started investigations. The New Mexico attorney general ordered the group to cease operating there after determining officers' names and addresses listed on tax returns are "fictional." Hawaii this week ordered the Navy Veterans to halt fundraising there because the group is not legally registered.
The Navy Veterans did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.