When people give to injured veterans charities, they rightly expect their money will help the men and women who paid a big price for defending America.
So accusations that the Wounded Warrior Project is misappropriating donations is upsetting people on a number of fronts.
The nonprofit organization, considered country’s leading charity for battle-scarred soldiers, is facing allegations of spending almost as much on itself as it does to help American war heroes.
In two separate investigations by The New York Times and CBS News, dozens of former employees, including many vets, have accused the WWP of wasting a lot of donation money on travel, luxury hotels and expensive meals.
“Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn't see is how they spend their money," retired Army Staff Sgt. Erik Millete, who endured 17 IED attacks in Iraq, told CBS News. "You're using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties.”
The problem of lavish spending gained force ever since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009, according to many who were previously affiliated with the group.
Connie Chapman, a former Iraq veteran with PTSD who was in charge of the now-controversial charity’s Seattle office for two years, explained to the Times how people could waste [donation] funds “on the most ridiculous thing,” and no one would ever object to it.
“I would fly to New York for less than a day to report to my supervisor,” said Chapman, who was fired in 2012 as part of a “management restructuring.”
As bad as it sounds, allegations of squandering of funds by the Wounded Warrior Project are not new. In 2014, The Daily Beast published a similar report, citing interviews from several veterans and their advocates.
“In the beginning, with Wounded Warrior, it started as a small organization and evolved into a beast,” an active-duty Army soldier known only as Sam told the Beast, adding the aid group is just “keeping up an appearance” by flashy displays such as reserved parking spots for injured vets or skydiving with soldiers.
Also, a lot of ex-employees are too hesitant to publicly criticize the charity behemoth. “They are such a big name within the veterans’ community. I don’t need to start a war in my backyard,” a double-amputee vet explained in an interview.
Of the 40 former employees CBS interviewed for its report, two refused to appear on camera due to fears of retaliation.
William Chick, a former supervisor, who spent five years with the WWP told the Times that the group “swiftly fired anyone leaders considered a ‘bad cultural fit.’”
“It slowly had less focus on veterans and more on raising money and protecting the organization,” said Chick, who was fired in 2012 after a dispute with his supervisor.
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The WWP denies all allegations that it's misusing donations. In fact, the charity believes their name is being tainted because critics are “jealous” of their success.
However, Charity Navigator watchdog group found that in 2014, Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust and the Fisher House Foundation spent 96 and 91 percent, respectively, on vets, while Wounded Warrior used only 60 percent.
If the WWP is spending money to aid injured soldiers, then what did they do with the rest of the 40 percent funds?