Investigation: Wounded Warrior Project under fire, only spends 60 percent of funds on vets

DC NEWSBy Jonah Bennett

The Wounded Warrior Project, a charity organization dedicated to helping injured former military members, only spends about 60 percent of its donation funds helping veterans.

An investigation by CBS News discovered that the Wounded Warrior Project has a dismal record when compared to other similar charities, though the group managed to pull in $300 million just in 2014. The organization apparently raised more than $1 billion since 2003.

“Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn’t see is how they spend their money,” Army Staff Sgt. Erick Millette told CBS News. Millette worked with the project for two years before quitting from disillusionment, saying that the charity was little more than a scam to bring in money and spend on extravagant and luxurious parties, as well as other non-vet-related expenses.

The Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, in contrast, spends 96 percent on veterans and Fisher House spends 91 percent.

“You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties,” Millette added.

Millette wasn’t the only employee to speak up regarding problems plaguing the charity. CBS News interviewed over 40 other employees with similar stories. Owing to concern over retaliation, two former employees in particular declined to be interviewed by CBS on camera.

The spiral occurred over just a few years. In 2010, spending on conferences only amounted to $1.7 million. But in 2014, that number surged to an unbelievable $26 million, causing many employees to panic and point to CEO Steven Nardizzi, who came aboard in 2009, as the reason for the decline in the organization’s mission.

“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.

Wounded Warrior Project’s Director of Alumni, Army Capt. Ryan Kules (ret.), denied to CBS that there was undue spending on conferences. That conferences were held at five-star locations, Kules said, was to facilitate team alignment.

A follow-up investigation from CBS on Wednesday found that the project has a culture of retaliation.

“If you use your brain and come up with an idea, within a matter of time, you’re ‘off the bus,’” one former employee told CBS.

Outlandish spending isn’t the only controversy the group has courted in the last several years. The group focuses an incredible amount of resources on suing other non-profits who use the phrase “wounded warrior” into oblivion. Instead of helping veterans, these charities on the receiving end of the Wound Warrior Project’s litigious tendencies have had to use funds putting up a legal defense.  One charity in Pennsylvania, called the Keystone Wounded Warriors, has had to spend more than $72,000 defending itself.

Non-Profit Quarterly called the behavior “ugly.”

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