FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) - The biggest charity inside the U.S. military has been hoarding tens of millions of dollars meant to help put fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan back on their feet.
An Associated Press investigation shows that between 2003 and 2007, the Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid.
That's at a time when many military families were struggling with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures.
The Fort Bliss-based charity is tax-exempt and legally separate from the military but really operates under close Army control. The massive nonprofit is funded primarily by the troops themselves. It allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions, forces struggling soldiers to repay loans and often violates its own rules by rewarding donors.
AER executives defend their operation, insisting they need to keep sizable reserves to be ready for future catastrophes.