The Wounded Warrior Project is one of the most popular and recognizable veterans’ charity in the United States, but reports from insiders say that the organization spends donation funds lavishly on its staff members. According to reports by The New York Times and CBS News, former employees are accusing the charity of misusing donations meant for soldiers and their families on perks for employees, including large staff parties, travel, expensive hotels, conferences, and dinners at fancy restaurants.
Highlighting the plight of wounded veterans has been good to the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2014, the WWP reported an astounding $342 million in revenue on its tax return. Most of this came from small donations made by people over the age of 65.
Yet despite this, according to Charity Navigator, a website which ranks charities on merits such as effectiveness, accountability and transparency, the Wounded Warrior Project spends a relatively low 59.9 percent on programs and services, in contrast to comparable organizations like Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, which spends 96.5 percent of its budget on veterans.
This begs the question; if it’s not going to programs, where exactly is the money going? Former employees provide a disturbing answer.
Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette, who joined the Wounded Warrior Project in 2013 as a public speaker but quit after two years in disgust, initially admired the charity before learning the truth about how it spends its money.
“You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties,” Millette told CBS News. “Going to a nice fancy restaurant is not team building. Staying at a lavish hotel at the beach here in Jacksonville, and requiring staff that lives in the area to stay at the hotel is not team building.”
CBS interviewed over 40 employees, who backed up Millette’s allegations of irresponsible spending. The New York Times article gave more detail to the allegations, noting that “at least half a dozen” former employees claimed that they were let go from Wounded Warrior after raising questions about wasteful spending. Some were afraid of retaliation and asked to remain anonymous.
“Former workers recounted buying business-class seats and regularly jetting around the country for minor meetings, or staying in $500-per-night hotel rooms. The organization has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on public relations and lobbying campaigns to deflect criticism of its spending and to fight legislative efforts to restrict how much nonprofits spend on overhead. About 40 percent of the organization’s donations in 2014 were spent on its overhead, or about $124 million.”
The WPP’s spending also allegedly included $26 million dollars on conferences and meetings in 2014 alone, or about the same amount it spends on combat stress recovery, the top program of the organization. The Washington Post reported that one-third of its functional spending went towards advertising. William Chick, a former supervisor for the project for five years who was fired in 2012 after a dispute, commented about the direction the charity was heading.
“It slowly had less focus on veterans and more on raising money and protecting the organization,” Chick said to The New York Times.
The CBS and The New York Times reports both mention a four-day conference at the five-star Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, attended by about 500 employees, which ended up costing 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,” Millette said to CBS News.
Steven Nardizzi, the CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project since 2009, notably made $473,000 in 2014.
“It’s incredibly disturbing,” Rep. Seth Moulton told WCVB Boston. “I mean, we’re talking about people who put their lives on the line for their country and we’re talking about a charity that’s supposed to be supporting those veterans.”
The Wounded Warrior Project, for their part, denied the allegations and demanded that CBS apologize and retract the report, calling it “absurd and patently false” is an open letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday.