The VFW Post in Cody has been reinstated after being suspended for more than a month by the VFW Department of Wyoming as it investigated complaints made about the post.
Post Commander Todd Beier said that despite his organization having been cleared, the post is considering legal action against the state VFW organization to reveal the identity of those who made the original complaints that led to the suspension.
Among the complaints were allegations the post was misusing money earmarked for veterans’ funerals.
“We need to know who the people are who continuously make these complaints,” Beier said.
Beier fears the damage from the suspension will be too significant for the post to recover from because of the fatigue its members have from fighting battles with the state VFW. The post was also temporarily suspended in 2018 over similar accusations.
“Unfortunately, I think that we’re seeing the end of Cody Post 2673,” he said.
Who’s The Whistleblower?
Beier said the state VFW is refusing to reveal the identity of the complainants and has claimed there have already been threats made against people suspected to be whistleblowers, a claim Beier denies. He said if threats were made, they weren’t made by VFW members.
“Nobody from our post has made any threats to anybody because we don’t know who even to threaten if we were going to do that,” he said.
Beier suspects the whistleblower is a past VFW member.
The suspension had halted all activities at the hall for more than a month, including some of the group’s Memorial Day and July 4 events and the opportunity to rent out the hall for outside events like weddings. In addition, the Cody Honor Guard was not able to participate in its regular Memorial Day activities.
The uncertainty of how long the suspension would last also forced the cancellation of future events and lost revenue. The hall’s only paid employee, a bartender, resigned during the suspension.
"All of a sudden, now we can’t provide the service, so it makes us look bad,” Beier said.
On May 9, Beier received a letter from State VFW Commander Danielle Smith outlining various allegations of wrongdoing involving veterans’ funerals.
In the letter, Smith alleged the Cody Honor Guard had been charging a $100 mandatory “donation” for its services at veterans’ funerals, which the families had not agreed to pay and is not legal to forcibly charge.
Teri Cheney, whose husband Warren Cheney died in October 2021, verified to Cowboy State Daily her family was charged the $100 “donation.”
“They charged my daughter $100 for the memorial of my husband,” she said.
Beier said the claim is false and all donations were optional.
“It was of their own free will,” he said.
At the same time, the state said the Cody post had been filing for funeral services with the Wyoming Veterans Commission for $50, a charge for a service it was not providing.
Beier said this is not what happened. He said the VFW would forward all proceeds from the state to the Honor Guard to perform the funerals.
“We never collected one penny from any funeral,” he said.
Still, the state VFW has said even that act is illegal.
Through the state VFW’s investigation, it was discovered the post had been receiving reimbursement from the Wyoming Military Department for services it had not been directly performing since February 2018.
Beier said the post had received “the exact same complaint” in 2018, which he said the organization had been cleared of at that time but not before it served a suspension.
The Honor Guard
The Honor Guard split away from the VFW at the time of the 2018 suspension and formed its own nonprofit. Because of this, the VFW has no power to regulate the Honor Guard organization.
Even though they are considered a separate organization, Beier said most of the Honor Guard are also current VFW members.
Beier said no documentation has been provided to prove that the VFW was told it couldn’t directly hand off the state’s funeral contribution to an outside group like the Honor Guard.
Smith also received allegations that Honor Guard Chairman Ron Silva had refused to start Warren Cheney’s funeral service until two guests left because they had been banned from the Cody VFW in the past.
“That’s totally disrespectful in my opinion,” Cheney said. “When it’s a memorial, civilians can go in there. When it’s a private event, civilians can go in there. You don’t have to be military.”
Cheney believes Silva is the cause of most of the troubles involving the VFW.
In addition, she said the Honor Guard charges the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Park every time the Honor Guard appears at the park for Memorial Day festivities.
“That’s an honor you do, it’s not a job,” Cheney said.
Silva did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.
Smith also brought allegations against the Honor Guard for wearing improper uniforms and said there hadn’t been two active members of the armed forces at each veteran’s funeral, another violation.
She also said the post had illegally been loaning out U.S. Army-donated M-1 ceremonial funeral rifles to a nonprofit not affiliated with the VFW, which Beier said he didn’t know wasn’t allowed.
Beier said he had been told by others that at around the time of the 2018 suspension, the VFW had been given notice by the state it could continue lending out its M-1s as it previously had to the Cody Honor Guard when it was a part of the VFW.
The state VFW claims it told the Cody VFW it could not do this back in 2018, but Beier said the state has not provided any documentation proving it communicated this after asking for the state to show evidence numerous times.
“We’re still waiting,” Beier said.
Smith ordered the Honor Guard to cease performing services immediately and said that the State VFW would be investigating the matter.
On May 25, Smith suspended the Post for up to 90 days due to the alleged funding violations and other infractions. Beier said the Post was never given a chance to remedy their violations before being suspended.
The “VFW Post Suspension Guide,” says the suspension of a post should be the state commander’s last recourse after previous attempts to correct shortcomings have failed.
“That right there is they key because I didn’t know that we were supposed to be submitting these reports on behalf of the Cody Honor Guard nor did I know that we should not be lending our rifles to another 501(c)(3) even though most of them are Post members,” Beier said.
The suspension was lifted July 8.
Smith declined to comment when reached by Cowboy State Daily, saying the VFW is a private organization. Her term as state commander ended while the investigation into the Cody VFW was still ongoing.
Beier said his post has found new VFW Commander George Cotton much more amenable to their concerns.
Cotton discouraged Cowboy State Daily from reporting on the suspension, warning it would give the VFW “a black eye,” which he believes certain members of the VFW are attempting to do.
“The VFW does not deserve that,” he said. “The VFW is an honorable organization for the veterans.”
Cotton said the Cody VFW did err, but he also believes the infractions were overblown and could have been resolved in a half-hour long conversation. He said he was never provided with any physical documentation outlining wrongdoing that had been committed.
Cotton reiterated that he was not the one who instigated the suspension and said the Cody VFW should place its focus on those individually responsible for causing the suspension rather than the VFW as a whole.
“The VFW doesn’t deserve the treatment that the Cody Post is trying to give it,” he said.
Cotton said he expects the Cody VFW situation to be totally resolved in the near future.
The VFW’s suspension was lifted at the start of a contentious, hours-long meeting held July 8 run by the state VFW in Cody. Beier said Cotton told the audience that he was told by Smith to stay out of the investigation.
“I feel like he (Cotton) inherited this storm that’s unfair to him,” Beier said. “Everything should have been settled prior to him taking over and it wasn’t.”
Cotton said Cody VFW members were more interested in arguing and yelling at this meeting than resolving conflict.
Beier said the meeting was mostly composed of members of his post “grilling” members of an investigative committee put together by the state VFW.
He said no documentation of wrongdoing was provided at this meeting or in the days following, a point Cotton also confirmed.
“We came into this with a lot of questions, and we came out of it with the same amount of questions,” Beier said.
He said there have already been acts of retaliation made against post members since this meeting, which he considers “a pathetic showing.”
Beier feels a sense of urgency to take legal action because he said one of his members has been targeted on three occasions.
“Ultimately, what I want to know is who’s doing it, because I never want to allow them back into our Post again,” Beier said.
Beier said the VFW will no longer hand off funerals and the $50 to the Honor Guard to perform its services. He said the VFW has ceased all activities it was accused of being illegally engaged in and he hopes all investigations and drama involving his Post go away. On July 11, Beier was reelected for another term as commander.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.