VA OIG finally confirmed allegations focusing on abuse of authority of the worst rated NVVF veterans charity founder and VA attorney following a CNN investigation.
My readers and I have followed this story for many months about the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation and its founder, VA attorney J Thomas Burch Jr. Our concerns were not only that Burch misused charity funds intended to Vietnam veterans but also that he may be abusing his authority within the agency. We now know Burch enjoyed a high-level position within VA OGC and that he improperly used agency resources and charity donations for his own financial gain.
We now know Burch enjoyed a high-level position within VA OGC and that he improperly used agency resources and charity donations for his own financial gain to live like a baller. He even owned a Rolls Royce with a license plate “MY ROLLS”.
VA Attorney Investigation Background
Earlier this year, CNN investigated the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation (NVVF) for its ranking as the “worst” veterans charity. The NVVF received millions each year in donations from Americans earned through using robot callers. Practically all of the funds were misallocated rather than going to the veterans his donors intended to support.
Despite this finding addressed below, Burch is still employed at VA, but he will likely exit stage right very soon.
When the story first broke last spring, VA and the press downplayed Burch’s role at the agency, stating he was a mere attorney. VA even denied knowledge of Burch’s charity scheme despite numerous photos with senior VA leaders.
But my investigation suggested he was more than a mere attorney, and the newest IG investigation report revealed as much about Burch:
“Currently, Mr. Burch is serving as the Deputy Director of OGC’s Homeland Security, Operations, Legislation, and Docket Division within OGC’s Office of Management, Planning and Analysis. Mr. Burch’s official duties have consisted of serving as OGC’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer, National Alternative Dispute Resolution Officer, VA’s Integrated Operations Center Representative, and VA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) Steering Committee Representative.”
Did you know VA even has a deputy director for Homeland Security inside the agency? What exactly do you think a person does in that capacity?
This attorney who we now know abused his authority and ripped off generous Americans was working as a high-level attorney within VA. Once the allegations surfaced, Burch had his top-secret security clearance pulled.
Do we think he accessed personal information of certain veterans for purposes other than official VA business while deputy director?
I would love to get my hands on the description for that position within VA.
J Thomas Burch Apology To New Yorkers
IG reviewed the findings of New York Attorney General (AG) into Burch’s lavish lifestyle and spending habits while he purported worked at VA, using agency resources to further his nonprofit’s agenda. Burch agreed with the findings and even issued an apology to the people of New York including “the Veterans of the Vietnam War.”
In the letter, Burch acknowledged that he basically ripped off generous Americans:
“Those checks added up, and in 2014 we had a record year for donations reaching nearly $9 million. About 90% of your money went to our fundraisers; that is unacceptable. Much of the rest was not spent in the manner we described when we solicited money from you. This letter is also my apology to the people that we used as a prop in order for our fundraisers to collect money – the veterans of the Vietnam War.”
Charity Funds To Wine And Dine Women
The findings of the NY AG included that he used charity funds to wine and dine women that had little to nothing to do with veterans and everything to do with his “expensive lifestyle and tastes”:
“Burch could not justify the hundreds of thousands of dollars of [NVVF] money that he spent since at least 2010 to support his expensive lifestyle and tastes. This included using [NVVF] funds to pay for foreign and domestic travel, frequenting night clubs in the Baltimore area on a nearly weekly basis, ordering excessive and expensive food and drink at meals at the country’s top restaurants and lavishing gifts (both monetary and otherwise), on women that had either no or only a tangential relationship to a veteran.”
VA OIG Conclusion
The report is worth a look. The agency watchdog concluded:
“The evidence developed during the course of the investigation indicated that Mr. Burch engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Government. Mr. Burch also used his official VA position for private gain by using his membership on the CFBNP committee to identify and participate in various veteran events in which he dispersed the NVVF guidebooks that included a solicitation for donations. Participation in these events also elevated the stature and exposure of NVVF, which were seen as important considerations that were reflected in his NVVF compensation. Furthermore, the evidence reflected that Mr. Burch misused Government resources and official time by participating in a significant number of NVVF related telephone calls, NVVF related text messages, and sending NVVF related emails during on-duty hours.
“Mr. Burch is an attorney for VA with ethical and professional obligations. Additionally, evidence developed by the OIG and shared with the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, contributed to Mr. Burch admitting he breached his fiduciary duties to NVVF, and he used NVVF funds for his personal benefit. As an attorney and supervisor with the VA OGC, Mr. Burch is expected to adhere to a higher standard of conduct, both on-duty and off, and put the interest of the VA and veterans first. However, his behavior, as described in this report, only served to tarnish the reputation of VA and diminish the trust of veterans. His actions were indeed prejudicial to the United States Government.”
It sounds like Burch will be terminated from the agency for his actions. Let’s hope it sends a sharp message to other senior employees engaged in similar conduct.
In addition to the report, VA OIG also issued this press release on the matter which is posted below in its entirety:
VA Office of Inspector General Releases Administrative Investigation Report Concerning John Thomas Burch, Jr.
WASHINGTON – The VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) issued an administrative investigation report that found that John Thomas Burch, Jr., who is employed as an attorney in the VA Office of General Counsel (OGC), engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Government, misused his VA position for his private gain and misused government resources in connection with his outside employment as Chairman of the Board and President of the veterans’ charity, National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, Inc. (NVVF). The Department of Veterans Affairs requested that VA OIG investigate Burch’s activity with the charity after media stories questioned his relationship with the veterans’ charity and exposed the charity’s poor record of helping veterans and financial mismanagement. Mr. Burch’s conduct, as described in this report, served to tarnish VA’s reputation and diminish the trust of veterans, which is paramount to the success of the Department.
“VA employees are held to high standards and are afforded a special public trust to execute their duties properly for the benefit of veterans and the American people,” said Michael Missal, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General. “The VA OIG’s investigation found that Mr. Burch engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Government, and misused his position and government equipment for his own personal enrichment. As a lawyer for VA with ethical, fiduciary, and professional obligations, his conduct is particularly disturbing and repugnant.”
The OIG report contained three recommendations. VA concurred in all of them. In addition, VA notified OIG that it initiated the process for Mr. Burch’s removal from federal service after reviewing the OIG’s evidence.
The VA OIG also worked in collaboration with the New York Office of the Attorney General Charities Bureau (NYAGCB), sharing evidence that resulted in Mr. Burch admitting he breached his fiduciary duties to NVVF and used Foundation funds for his personal benefit. The NYAG issued an Assurance of Discontinuance against Mr. Burch. In that Assurance, Mr. Burch agreed to findings that he breached his fiduciary duties to the NVVF by, among other things, engaging in a pattern of abuse, mismanagement, and misspending of NVVF’s revenues. Aside from paying fund raisers the great majority of the donations collected, Mr. Burch used the NVVF funds to pay for his foreign and domestic travel, frequent visits to nightclubs, and lavishing gifts and money on women who either had no, or only a tangential, relationship to a veteran.
“There is nothing more shameless than exploiting military veterans in order to enrich oneself. The actions of this charity and its founder are appalling,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This organization took advantage of the good will of millions, yet failed to fulfill nearly all of its promises to help those who have sacrificed for our nation. This settlement sends a clear message that charities will not get away with fleecing donors in New York.”
Under the terms of the Assurance, Mr. Burch has agreed to pay $100,000 to the N.Y. Department of Law, and repay $5,331 to the charity. Mr. Burch has also issued an apology to the People of New York and the Veterans of the Vietnam War. He also agreed to never again handle charitable funds, refrain from serving in any non-profit, religious or other charitable organizations, and to cooperate with NYAG’s ongoing investigation.
The VA OIG conducts oversight of VA and its programs and operations, providing independent and objective reporting to the VA Secretary and the Congress for the purpose of preventing and detecting fraud and abuse, and bringing about positive change in the integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness of VA. To report potential criminal activity, fraud, waste, mismanagement, or other abuse, contact the VA OIG hotline at [email protected] or www.va.gov/oig/hotline/default.asp.