Former employees of VSO's Tennessee branch told the AP that the Florida-based organization, which claimed to provide jobs for veterans and non-veterans, threatened to fire those who did not meet quotas for donations collected outside retail stores and supermarkets, even as little of the money raised was benefiting veterans. At its peak, the chapter was raising tens of thousands of dollars a month, said former chapter manager Kurt Jones, one of about twenty employees who were laid off when the branch was closed in November, but it only donated about $400 worth of Walmart gift cards every other month to Veterans Affairs facilities in Tennessee and Kentucky. Jones estimated that the chapter raised almost $1.5 million in his two years as manager but only passed on $25,000 to veterans.
VSO also claimed to provide housing and support services for poor or homeless veterans — which amounted to little more than a rented home where the workers were charged $400 a month for bunk beds. The organization, which reported raising nearly $8.5 million nationwide during the last fiscal year, was fined in Tennessee for making false claims about the benefits it offered and banned from soliciting outside Walmart stores in Florida amid questions over its use of donations, while Connecticut lawmakers called for a federal investigation before the chapter was closed.
In a statement to the AP, VSO director of operations Justin Wells said the charity decided to close its chapters in Tennessee and New York to focus on launching in other markets that would enable them to hire more veterans. "Our national organization currently employs over a hundred and fifty veterans and invests 70 percent of donations into a work and housing program that helps veterans get off the street and into the workforce, but the economic challenges of our Tennessee chapter were affecting our ability to operate elsewhere."
Others remain skeptical. "What they are doing is scamming a lot of people," said Gary Thomas, a former employee, "taking money out of the state, not doing what they said they will do and faking it with phony figures."