Shocking news reports this week by CBS News and the New York Times reveal that the Wounded Warrior Project is spending outrageous amounts of money on advertising, lavish parties, and executive salaries, but it is not spending much money to help veterans. The CBS News story was published in three parts which ran Tuesday through Thursday. The New York Times story was published on Wednesday.
The scandal was discovered by Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Charity Navigator gathers its information from the federal tax reports filed by the charities. According to Charity Navigator, the Wounded Warrior Project spends less than 60 percent of its total expenses on the programs and services it delivers to veterans.
By contrast, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) spends 96.5 percent of its total expenses on veterans. The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund spends 92.7 percent of its money on its services to veterans. Fisher House, which provides military families with housing close to a hospitalized loved one, devotes 91 percent of its total expenses on veterans. What’s going on with the Wounded Warrior Project?
The Wounded Warrior Project’s huge spending on advertising has generated a powerful list of corporate sponsors including the National Football League, Bank of America and Under Armour. Donald Trump even skipped the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate in Iowa on Thursday to attend a Wounded Warrior Project function, and he did so after the news had already broken about the spending scandal at the Wounded Warrior Project.
Over the past few years the Wounded Warrior Project has faced a growing stream of criticism because of the way it spends its money. According to its tax returns, about 34 percent of the Wounded Warrior Project’s expenses go toward advertising. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) only spends 1.1 percent on advertising.
“Sometimes your light shines so bright that it blinds people from seeing who you really are.”
Shannon L. Alder
Army Staff Sgt. Erick Millette worked with the Wounded Warrior Project for two years before he quit because of his disillusionment with the way the Wounded Warrior Project spends the money that people donate to the charity. Millette told CBS News, “Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn’t see is how they spend their money.” Millette said that the Wounded Warrior Project is little more than a scam to bring in money to spend on extravagant and luxurious parties, as well as other non-veteran-related expenses (such as the salaries for the charities employees). Millette told CBS, “Donors don’t want you to have a $2,500 bar tab. Donors don’t want you to fly every staff member once a year to some five-star resort and whoop it up and call it team building.”
CBS News interviewed more than 40 other former Wounded Warrior Project employees who told similar stories. It wasn’t always like that at the Wounded Warrior Project. The outrageous spending spree has occurred over just a few years. Back in 2010, the Wounded Warrior Project’s spending on conferences only amounted to $1.7 million. But by 2014 the Wounded Warrior Project’s spending on conferences had surged to an astronomical $26 million. Many of the 40 former employees interviewed by CBS blame the wild spending and the decline in the organization’s mission on the Wounded Warrior Project’s CEO Steven Nardizzi, who took over leadership at the Wounded Warrior Project in 2009.
But outlandish spending isn’t the only controversy the Wounded Warrior Project has stirred up in recent years. The Wounded Warrior Project also spends a lot of time and money suing other non-profit charities who use the phrase “wounded warrior” in any way shape or form. As a result, the charities sued by the Wounded Warrior Project have to spend their money on a legal defense instead of helping veterans. For example, the Keystone Wounded Warriors, a Pennsylvania based charity, had to spend more than $72,000 to defend itself against a frivolous lawsuit filed by the Wounded Warrior Project.
The question is, how long before the bubble bursts and people stop donating to the Wounded Warrior Project? Only time will tell; but the writing is on the wall. If the leaders at the Wounded Warrior Project don’t change their ways, the charity will become irrelevant and eventually disappear, to be replaced by a real charity that spends its money on wounded veterans.