Nov. 16, 2020
Since being taken over by former North Andover Veterans’ Services Officer (VSO) Ed Mitchell, Veteran’s North East Outreach in Haverhill has come under fire for neglecting and turning away local vets, firing veterans and hiring friends who are not veterans.
Mitchell took over after the passing of VNOC’s founder John Ratka last year when he purged the organization of anyone closely connected to Ratka and instituted new rules to exclude certain veterans from getting services.
On Monday, local VSO’s in the Merrimack Valley received a letter by Don Cox, president of Massachusetts Military Support Foundation informing them that Veteran’s North East Outreach had been invoicing local municipalities for the food they are distributing to homeless veterans, despite the fact that VNOC receives grants from the organization to pay for that food.
“It has come to our attention that you, as a representative of your city or town, may have received an Invoice for foods supplied for your resident-veterans by Veterans Northeast Outreach Center and Massachusetts Military Support Foundation,” the letter says.
“Massachusetts Military Support Foundation did not, nor would it, approve of invoicing cities and towns to help provide foods to its veterans. We do not charge for Vital Meal Kits, USDA Farmer’s to Families Food Boxes, or any foods that we source as an organization. We are supported by philanthropic organizations and individuals.”
The letter followed up explaining that “All programs and services are provided at no cost to veterans and military personnel.”
Methuen Mayor Neil Perry said he was not familiar with the issue but was clear that he is not going pay any bill he receives from Veterans North East Outreach.
“I was not aware of this, but I am going to look into it and we will take appropriate action to address it.”
Perry says he will be meeting with Methuen’s Veteran’s Services Officer Tom Hargraves to address the issue.
Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini said he was familiar with the letters Haverhill has received from VNOC. “My understanding is that this isn’t really a bill but a request for a donation,” he said.
“They made it look like a bill and anyone who looks at it quick, might think it’s bill but it’s not really a bill.”
Sources at North Andover Town Hall said that VNOC definitely 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.”
“Whether it’s a bill or request for donation it’s not right,” said Air Force veteran and veteran activist John MacDonald of Lowell. “They are getting donations to buy the food and then they are asking other people to pay for it. There’s no excuse for that.”
“VNOC has had a long history of helping veteran’s in dire need of help, 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.”