|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|Treasurer’s Report, September/October 2020|
Strong, Focused, and Recovering
BY JACK McMANUS
The VVA Board of Directors participated in a video conference on July 18. State Council presidents listened in to the dialogue about the events that have occurred since the last physical BOD meeting in January. Although this remote process did not allow the same level of interaction we’ve enjoyed in traditional BOD meetings, Board members had opportunities to ask questions and get clarifications to their and the state presidents’ inquiries directly from the Officers.
Our original budget this fiscal year was $11.2 million. Reductions of $4.4 million brought us to a revised budget of $6.8 million. VVA has two reserve funds. The larger operating fund currently stands at about $5.2 million, which will be drawn down by approximately $1.6 million to partially fund this fiscal year’s budget. We also have our Life Member Dues Reserve Fund that is currently restricted to paying the annual $2 per member state council rebate and the annual $9 per member chapter rebate. Approximately $921,000 from the $4.1 million fund will be drawn down this fiscal year.
Any time revenue is reduced at these levels there will be an impact on our ability to sustain programs and services. With that said, and even though we have approved a budget that reflects severe reductions in VVA’s allocation of funds, an optimistic view looks out to 2021—a Convention year in which we would like to think it may be possible for our BOD and state presidents to again travel and provide in-person governance for VVA. But we all also understand that these are deeply uncertain times. A calamitous second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic or other major unforeseen economic disruption would, of course, alter our projections, which are still estimates based on a reasonable fiscal and funding recovery in the broader economy.
Given this indeterminate future, VVA is preparing for the worst as we hope for the best. In that regard—despite the precarious state of the nation’s public health, as well as its economy—we expect that VVA will have adequate financial reserves to continue operating at its present level for several years.
While VVA is now a smaller, leaner organization, it’s important that we consider this period to be a restructuring process to adapt our programs and services to the realities of a major downsizing. Will we be operating at the same levels as we did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic? Definitely not, at least for the foreseeable future. However, a key factor in our budget decision making is that we are downsizing—not disappearing—despite the speculations of many. Where to make budget reductions is a contentious challenge. We all have our own ideas about where budget reductions should be made, depending on the programs and services we each feel deserve continued support. Our decision-making process has focused on VVA programs and services that are critical to our core purpose and mission. We will continue to support those programs and services at levels that allow us to remain a relevant VSO. To echo President John Rowan, VVA and (to our knowledge) AVVA are not changing names and are not going away.
Perhaps the most visible change can be seen in The VVA Veteran, which has moved from both print and online editions to an online-only version. Will a print edition ever return? Possibly. That is a future decision the BOD will make when we have a clearer understanding of what our budgets will look like in the future. A print version might return with a different design or size if that helps the publication be more revenue-neutral. Changes to our U.S. Postal Service bulk mail rates also will weigh heavily in this decision. Meanwhile, the editorial and writing staff has been very focused on maintaining the high quality of the content and articles.
One of VVA’s largest cost centers is our Veterans Benefits Program, wherein we provide direct representation to veterans to gain health care and compensatory benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under this program we also provide operating grants, funded by the Veterans Support Foundation, to eligible state councils to help operate local service officer programs.
VSF is facing a funding challenge due to the pandemic’s economic impact, complicated by the fact that some of our state council programs also are dealing with the realities of retiring service officers, coupled with the disappearance of matching local dollars. When any or all of these factors cause a VVA state council program to shut down, VVA has the legal and moral responsibility to handle affected veterans’ VA claims, a task that mainly falls on our VVA national office staff.
The good news is that our latest estimates tell us that the reopening for our thrift store donors will allow a resumption of some level of funding to our eligible chapters and state councils in mid-October and continued funding of the participating state council VSO programs. Still, however the near future plays out economically, we are committed to supporting state council programs at existing levels regardless of outside funding. The economic benefit to the veterans we represent can have a major impact on them and their families, and knowing that VVA is standing by them in time of need is both invaluable to the veterans, and a binding commitment for VVA. We cannot, and will not, walk away from veterans, spouses, and family members we are committed to represent.
In other areas of VVA, our Government Affairs Program has been significantly downsized, including staff reductions. Despite fewer resources, Rick Weidman and Sharon Hodge, with assistance from Pete Peterson and his committee, continue to keep VVA legislative and regulatory issues out front on behalf of our members.
Our Membership Department, also downsized, continues to process new member applications, address changes, and many member inquiries, and also prepare chapter and election data and data reports. With staff reductions, and as we continue reorganization, we may change the frequency and methods of some of these activities.
Administrative services, including accounting functions, many communications channels, and the Veterans Health Council, continue to function at a high level and provide normal services to all VVA levels and members.
With every passing day it seems that the care and treatment of veterans comes under attack in some way—but VVA maintains a state of both vigilance and the willingness to respond to these challenges. Given the significant loss in talent and resources VVA has weathered in the last few months it cannot be expected that operations through this period of national crisis will be without snafus and problems. However, we can expect that the trust, flexibility, and enthusiasm from our chapters, state councils, committees, and Board of Directors, as well as the staff, will keep us strong, focused, and moving toward a national recovery.
While the economic collapse associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected VVA’s programs and services in very significant ways, we are still here, and still doing our work serving veterans, and staying strong.
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