Wounded Vets Shortchanged By Charities

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The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Many of the charities set up to help troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent relatively little of their donations on the wounded, the Washington Post reports.

Eight veterans' charities, including some of the nation's largest, gave less than a third of the money raised to the causes they champion, far below the recommended standard, according to a repot by the American Institute of Philanthropy. One group paid its founder and his wife a combined $540,000 in compensation and benefits last year, according to a Washington Post analysis of tax filings.

This isn't against the law - but it is giving lawmakers an always-welcome opportunity to express outrage.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was scheduled to hold its first hearing on veterans' charities this morning. One of those scheduled to testify is Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of the Chicago-based institute that authored the study.

"They oversolicit," he said of the charities. "They love to send out a lot of trinkets and stickers and greeting cards and flags and things that waste a lot of money that they get little return on."

Twelve of the 29 charities reviewed got Fs, including Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, the AMVETS National Service Foundation and the Freedom Alliance. Eight got Ds.

Taxpayers are paying for the tax exemption that many of these groups are allegedly squandering, one congressman noted angrily.

Of course, taxpayers are also supposed to be funding the veterans' services that might make some of these charities' work less necessary, but there's the problem. You just don't get that warm, fuzzy, supporting-the-troops feeling from paying your taxes.

Now we know you shouldn't necessarily be getting from donating to any old veterans' charity either.

Army Suicide Rate This Year The Highest On Record

Fewer American troops may be dying at the hands of Iraqi insurgents lately, but more Army soldiers died at their own hands than at any other time since officials have been keeping track, USA Today reports.

A record number of soldiers - 109 - have killed themselves this year, according to Army statistics. The deaths come as soldiers serve longer combat deployments and the Army spends $100 million on support programs.

The highest number of Army suicides recorded since 1990 was 102 in 1992 - a period when the service was 20 percent larger than it is today. This year's suicide rate would equal 18.4 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980.

The civilian suicide rate was 11 per 100,000 in 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research released by the Army in August shows that almost 70 percent of suicides in 2006 were spurred by failed relationships.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, records show that 127 soldiers have killed themselves while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The article doesn't offer any particularly compelling explanation - besides a general one about the ongoing stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment - for why the overwhelming majority of suicides in these conflicts have happened in the last year.

Hospital Says No Thanks To Religious Kidney Donor

While Congress is grilling veterans' charities today on not being generous enough, the Wall Street Journal reports on the controversy surrounding a religious group accused of being a little too generous.

Ashwyn Falkingham, 23, is a member of a 30-member religious group called the Jesus Christians that, true to normal cult form, expects members to turn over their savings to the group and forsake family, friends and possessions. It also advocates donating kidneys to strangers.

Half of the group's members have done it. Falkingham wanted to do it too. He said it was a "simple thing that can help someone." And he's got a point. Nearly 75,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for kidney transplants.

But many hospitals aren't interested in donors who don't have established, personal relationships with the recipient, partly because they fear strangers might be secretly (and illegally) paid for their organs. They also worry these people might be psychologically disturbed or likely to back out.

After finding a recipient online through the website set up by the Jesus Christians' leader, David McKay, Falkingham flew to Toronto in March to meet with doctors and psychologists at a hospital there. They asked if he was coerced into this decision, and he said no.

But his parents disagreed. They were freaked out by the fact that Falkingham refused to attend a family Christmas gathering without at least one other group member, or that he wouldn't discuss his kidney donation plans without the 67-year-old McKay present. They wrote to transplant programs across the country and to the health minister's office in Ontario laying out their concerns.

The Toronto hospital cancelled his surgery and ruled out Falkingham as a donor. It wrote him explaining that he was motivated by the desire for publicity, it concluded, not altruism.

The recipient, who now needs kidney dialysis, was devastated. "I'm not saying that it was easy for the hospital," he said. "But they were more concerned about their reputation and everything else than worried about someone's life."

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