The Foundation’s financial troubles first surfaced in 2008, when ABC News reported that then-Foundation president Richard Esau was fired over conflict-of-interest allegations.
Henry Cook, then the Order’s national commander, accused the Foundation under Esau of giving $500,000 to the Intrepid Museum in New York, right before the daughter of a Foundation board member was hired by the museum, ABC reported.
Cook also alleged that the Foundation gave $100,000 to the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association where Esau had worked before joining the Foundation, and where his wife continued to work at the time of the donation, according to ABC.
Esau later insisted he had been wrongfully terminated at an Order meeting, Cook told ABC.
Ron Siebels was a soldier deployed to Vietnam when he was injured in an explosion.
He later joined the Order and served as the Foundation’s treasurer.
But Siebels said he quit last year over concerns with Foundation finances and leadership after getting “tired of the crap that I saw.”
The Foundation has had to withdraw money from its investment accounts to cover bills, and continues fundraising strategies that have already failed, he said.
He doesn’t know why the Foundation shows such resistance to change.
“People there know what’s going on and won’t do anything about it,” he said. “I got to the point where I felt like I was swimming in someone else’s cesspool, and I’m not going to continue this. Everything they’ve done to try and raise funds has backfired.”
Siebels said he was horrified when the Order announced plans to end the program that helps veterans file VA claims.
“It’s total mismanagement,” Siebels said.
The Order’s national convention is later this summer, and Siebels said he hopes it can disentangle itself from the Foundation.
“I hope we throw the Foundation out,” he said. “They’ll probably sue because they think they own the Purple Heart [trademark]. They weren’t there when I was wounded and left for dead.”
Jason Johns was a soldier back in October 2003, when his unarmored Humvee hit an anti-tank landmine in Iraq.
Johns was knocked out, riddled with shrapnel and later received the Purple Heart.
Johns said he was serving as the Order’s national judge advocate in 2016 when he noticed the “funny numbers” in the finances.
He said he and other Order members asked to look at the Foundation’s books.
“The response was vitriol,” Johns said.
He later quit his position and said “it didn’t come as a shock” when he heard of plans to end the National Service Program.
Johns said the Foundation’s problems stem from failing to adapt to the times, a problem that he partially attributes to a generational schism between older and younger Purple Heart recipients.
The World War II members are largely gone and Vietnam vets are running things, said Johns, now a private attorney in Wisconsin who helps veterans with claim appeals.
The older leaders have been resistant to new ideas, Johns said.
He recalled being rebuffed when he and another Iraq vet approached the Foundation about working with a PR firm that was offering to rebrand and market the charity for free.
“The foundation said no [expletive] thank you, we’ll figure it out,” Johns said.
The Order should have no problem collecting donations, he said, and the marketing possibilities are endless.
“For crying out loud, we’re the Military Order of the Purple Heart,” Johns said. “We were wounded in battle. You ask 98 percent of the civilian population, they know what [the Purple Heart] is. They know what it looks like and know what it means.”
The Order was congressionally chartered decades ago.
Johns said the Congressional charter mandates the charity submit an annual report to Congress, but he is not sure whether that mandate has ever been enforced.
Like Siebels, Johns said he hopes the Order can end its involvement with the Foundation and find a more efficient way to raise money.
“If they keep on this path, they’re going to dissolve,” he said of the Foundation. “They’ll fade away and we’ll create our own organization to fund-raise.”