Wounded Warrior Project is More Focused on Raising Money Than on Serving Wounded Veterans, Says Former Employees
"I am a retired U.S.A. M/Sgt. Me and my fellow veterans knew this Wounded Warrior Project was a scam the first TV commercial we saw. Sad-eyed commercials work on bleeding heart Americans, whether it is for veterans, children or dogs & cats. Because Americans are Americans. If you Americans are really interested in helping veterans, find one and help direct. Cut out the scam artist. There are plenty of veterans that need a helping hand; one won't be hard to find. Get involved directly with your money. Most charities are designed to get your money, not to help people except those that own the charity. Again, if you want to help a veteran, find one and give your helping hand direct, not through a so-called charity." - Billy Shivers, Longview Texas
Former Wounded Warrior employees accuse charity of wasting millions (CBS Evening News):
In a CBS News investigation, more than 40 former employees of the Wounded Warrior Project accuse the charity of wasting millions of donated dollars on luxury hotels, lavish conferences and expensive meals for staff. The charity has defended its spending. Chip Reid reports.>
Wounded Warrior Project accused of falling short of mission (CBS This Morning):
Wounded Warrior Project, the nation's most recognizable veteran’s charity, has invested heavily in fundraising. The charity says this philosophy best positions it to carry out its stated mission: to honor and empower wounded warriors. But in Part 2 of a CBS News investigation, former employees are speaking out about programs they say fall short.
In April, Hampton Roads, Virginia-based News Channel 3 attempted to delve into some of the same Charity Navigator data that CBS examined, though its piece mostly focused on WWP CEO Steven Nardizzi's apparent opposition to so-called "charity watchdogs." That report made a point of underscoring the value of donors performing independent checks, claiming that the news team's "investigation shows how a charity and a charity-checking organization can review the same data and come up with different results."
To verify a non-profit’s financials, review its IRS form 990 – google “990 form” along with the charity’s name, or signup for a free account at GuideStar.org. On the first page of the form 990 you can ascertain total overhead (which is detailed on Part IX of the form) by subtracting the amount on line 13 from line 18. To determine percentage, divide the difference by the amount on line 18 and then multiple the result by 100.
|Wounded Warrior Project 2013 IRS Form 990, Part 1|
A June report by The Daily Beast criticized Nardizzi, saying he pays his executives too much. "Nardizzi is an advisory board member of the Charity Defense Council, an outfit with lofty ambitions," The Daily Beast's Tim Mak wrote. "The organization wants to remake the entire charitable sector to be more permissive of high overhead and high executive compensation, explicitly citing as its model the oil industry’s efforts to rehabilitate its public image."
CBS News - A CBS News investigation into a charity for wounded veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project, looks into how the charity spends its donation money.
What caught our attention is how the Wounded Warrior Project spends donations compared to other long-respected charities.
For example, Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust spends 96 percent of its budget on vets. Fisher House devotes 91 percent. But according to public records reported by "Charity Navigator," the Wounded Warrior Project spends 60 percent on vets.
Where is the money is going?
In its commercials, Wounded Warrior Project appeals to the American public's generosity, and it works. In 2014 alone the group received more than $300 million in donations.
"Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn't see is how they spend their money," said Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette.Millette came home from Iraq in 2006 with a bronze star and a purple heart -- along with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
Initially, he admired the charity's work, and participated in its programs. He took a job as a public speaker with Wounded Warrior Project in 2013. But after two years, he quit.
"You're using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties," he told CBS News.Millette said he witnessed lavish spending on staff.
"Let's get a Mexican mariachi band in there, let's get maracas made with [the] WWP logo, put them on every staff member's desk. Let's get it catered and have a big old party," he described.CBS News spoke to more than 40 former employees who described a charity where spending was out of control.
Two of those former employees were so fearful of retaliation they asked that their faces not to be shown on camera.
"It was extremely extravagant. Dinners and alcohol, and just total accessm" one employee explained. He continued, saying that for a charitable organization that's serving veterans, the spending on resorts and alcohol is "what the military calls fraud waste and abuse."
Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi
According to the charity's tax forms, spending on conferences and meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014. That's about the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery -- its top program.
Former employees say spending has skyrocketed since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009. Many point to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs as typical of his style.
"He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He's come in on a Segway, he's come in on a horse."About 500 staff members attended the four-day conference in Colorado. The price tag? About $3 million.
"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," said Millette.
A Colorado Springs resort where a 2014 WWP conference was held
Wounded Warrior Project declined CBS News' repeated interview requests for Nardizzi, but offered their Director of Alumni and a recipient of their services, Captain Ryan Kules.
Kules denied there was excessive spending on conferences.
"It's the best use of donor dollars to ensure we are providing programs and services to our warriors and families at the highest quality."