|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|Vice President’s Report, September/October 2020|
Doing What We Had to Do
BY TOM BURKE
The last six months have been a surreal trail. Along with the other officers, I have been enmeshed in finance, people discussions, people decisions, office staff, downsizing, legal issues, and cost reductions since COVID-19 arrived. Announcements came all across the country concerning the rapid advance of illnesses caused by the virus. The subsequent succession of changes in every facet of VVA’s activities continues. Much of this report was delivered to the Board of Directors at our July meeting.
Most of you are aware that VVA unfortunately had to eliminate a dozen positions, including two attorneys who resigned and one position with VHC that was already vacant. The pandemic forced our hand.
The COVID-19 situation came on us quickly and without warning. No one could have seen it coming. The statement has been made many times that if VVA lost its HGDP revenue, we would be in trouble. Well, it happened. VVA was notified that most Household Goods revenue had dried up. The HGDP thrift shops were not considered essential businesses by the government during COVID-19. So they were forced to shut down and lay off some 4,000 workers.
Many vendors still have stock in their warehouses. When they make their return, they will have to work off their stored inventories before they begin to collect on the streets again. Workers have to be found. Distribution networks have to be re-established. Customers will have to return to our buyers’ stores. We were told that it would be approximately 30 weeks before buyers might return.
That’s a minimum of eight months with no revenue. But all the bills that VVA usually incurs will continue. Latest reports coming in from the field have told us that some buyers have restarted in states where it has been allowed. Some stores have reopened, but the customers are still very sparse. Without customers to buy the stock, very little inventory moves. Nonetheless, we need to be upbeat and optimistic that our stores and buyers will return to help us recover.
That being said, the abrupt decline in the organization’s financial state caused drastic cost-saving measures. Thrift stores account for about 62 percent of our overall revenue. The officers looked for every cost-saving method that we could think of prior to going to the staff. However, anyone who knows anything about business knows that the quickest way to the bottom line is through employees, their salaries and benefits.
So, what were our cost reductions? A total freeze on spending. All face-to-face meetings canceled, even those for the Board and CSCP, which have been canceled through January 2021. The first Virtual Special Meeting of the Board took place during July. This form of meeting will continue through the end of the year. The Leadership Conference was canceled, and there’s no paid travel for anyone, including Officers (except in an emergency situation), regional directors, committee chairs, special advisers, and staff. The freeze continues.
Consultants, with very few exceptions, had their contracts terminated in June. Going to staff was the last thing we wanted to do. But decisions had to be made. Announcements to those affected took place beginning on June 1. An interview with each person was set up so each knew what was happening and why.
The Officers took no pleasure in doing what we had to do. The last of the terminated staff left July 31. This type of move is never welcome, nor is it easy on the individuals who have to perform the duty. It certainly is not easy on the people who are let go. However, it had to be done so VVA could continue to operate. We have completed that phase of the overall plan. These decisions were made on strictly a business perspective.
“Given the situation we face,” I’ve been asked, “what will happen if COVID-19 comes back in the fall?” The virus is still with us, folks; it has not gone away. Cases of the virus are on the uptick everywhere. Given the underlying maladies that many have in our group, I doubt anyone wants to take the chance of putting people in harm’s way by being part of a large gathering of VVA people. Or getting on a plane full of people headed to a Convention. Neither would I. Your lives are more important to us than that. In the event that the economy gets shut down again, our revenue may not return. In that event we may not have to worry about VVA. But that is not what we are forecasting. Our biggest situation right now is we do not know what the future holds. But let’s think positively. The Convention is next year and we are still planning on it.
I have also been receiving questions concerning the Service Officer grant cycle program in the fall. I reported to the Board that in early July we did not believe that we had sufficient information to make an informed decision on this one. The Veterans Support Foundation provides most of the money that keeps our service officer program moving. We became aware that VSF is having funding issues during this virus situation. In my last report, I was not sure if VSF would be able to continue to donate to the cause.
We have become enlightened by Treasurer Jack McManus’ recent discussions with the VSF Treasurer and Board. It appears now that VSF is willing to strengthen the longstanding relationship between our two organizations. We are very grateful to Keith King, the VSF President, the VSF Board, and their donors who help keep our program going. We look ahead to a positive outcome.
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