Sources at Veterans North East Outreach Center, (VNEOC) – a nonprofit in Haverhill – say that Executive Director Ed Mitchell, was fired this morning after months of turmoil at the organization. Mitchell is the former Veterans’ Services Officer in North Andover and was brought in to VNOEC after the passing of founder John Ratka last year.
During his short time at VNEOC, Mitchell fired veterans and hired non-veterans at the organization, turned away veterans in need, and banned some veterans from the property.
Last month VNEOC had to send out an apology letter to local mayor’s and VSOs because of what they called “a poorly executed attempt to get local communities to share unused CARES money (federal funding for COVID expenses) with the non-profit.”
Eric Nelson, President of the VNEOC Board of Directors emailed The Valley Patriot after our original story ran on Wednesday, saying that Mitchell was not fired. A letter from the board to VNEOC to members said that Mitchell took a voluntary layoff because of financial issues at the organization.
Under Mitchell, VNEOC sparked anger among local Veteran’s Services Officers (VSO) who received an “invoice” from the organization for groceries and other services provided to veterans who live in those towns.
The controversy erupted last month because the groceries and services they provide to local veterans are already paid for by grants and donations.
After local mayors, town managers, and VSOs complained to the press that they were under no obligation to pay the invoices sent by VNEOC, Scott Forbes, CEO of VNEOC sent a letter to each community with an apology, explaining that it was a “poorly executed” attempt to raise contributions, and had no intent on actually “invoicing” municipalities.
“As a nonprofit with little to no margins when it comes to funding, we wanted cities and towns to consider investing in what we do here to support the veterans we serve,” the letter stated.
“Yes, I’m here today to tell you that the execution of our message and proposals was far from perfect. We totally failed in this regard. VNEOC does not expect municipalities to pay for services they may or may not have participated in, and I apologize to any VSO that was put in a vicarious position due to the poor execution of our request.”
“Our request should have been framed in this way: if your city or town has additional CARES funding that will not be utilized by the end of the calendar year, please consider supporting VNEOC rather than returning the funds back to the government.”
“They made it look like a bill and anyone who looks at it quick, might think it’s a bill, but it’s not really a bill,” Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini told The Valley Patriot.
Sources at North Andover Town Hall said that VNOC sent them an “invoice”, one source who asked not to be named said “this is not a request for donations, it’s an invoice no matter what kind of spin they have on it now. I think the bill we got was somewhere in the neighborhood of $18,000.”
“VNOC has had a long history of helping veterans in dire need of help, said John MacDonald, an Air Force veteran on the board of Veterans Assisting Veterans.
“I know that when vets go there, it’s because they have nowhere else to go. I would hope under this new leadership that VNOC will continue in the vein of John Ratka. Whatever for-profit model they seem to be moving towards – I hope it doesn’t take them away from the primary mission of helping every veteran.”
Forbes, the CEO of VNEOC said that in no way was his organization trying to profit off services that were already paid for by donations and grants.
CEO Scott Forbes will be acting as Executive Director.◊