Wounded Warrior Project: Setting The Record Straight
By Marty Skovlund, Jr.
We live in a nation who has sent their sons and daughters to war for nearly fifteen years, yet has neglected to hold the government accountable for caring for them after they return- often with horrific injuries, some more visible than others. In an attempt to bridge a gap in care and resources, an estimated 40,000 military and veteran oriented non-profit charities have sprung into existence.
One of the most widely recognized and heavily funded by the American public is the Wounded
Warrior Project (WWP). As a veteran of five combat deployments, I have seen many veterans helped by their organization, and many who have gone unanswered. They have done a lot of good for veterans and their families, but they certainly have room to improve as well.
With over 300 million dollars in donations for 2014 alone, the Wounded Warrior Project has attracted both good and bad attention for how it spends its money. Rightly so, when resources are the difference between saving a veterans life and not, it’s a really big deal. The most recent volley served to WWP was from a January 26th CBS News investigation, in which they allege the charity wastes its money on lavish parties and booze fueled company retreats, among other charges.
What has become apparent is that CBS News may have a few facts wrong, and did not check their sources as well as you would expect. When lives are on the line, accuracy is important.
The most glaring inaccuracy in the CBS News report was that only sixty percent of WWP donations went to programs and services for disabled veterans. The most recent independently audited financial statements show that in actuality, 80.6% of donations went towards programs and services for wounded service members, their caregivers, and families. This is still well below the 90%+ that other large veteran-oriented non-profits achieve, but far above what the report by CBS News cited.
The report also charged that twenty six million dollars was spent on conferences, conventions and meetings; and that three million dollars was spent on an annual employee-training meeting. Due to the vagueness of IRS Form 990, the report misconstrued how most of that money was actually spent. In reality, 94% of those expenses went to programs and events that were held for wounded veterans and their families, most notably the Wounded Warrior Project’s mental health programs.
There was never three million dollars spent on a single training event; the average is 1,500 dollars per person, which covers travel and accommodations for four days.
As for the alcohol-fueled parties and multitude of former employees who came forward in the report? For clarification on this, I reached out to a friend and fellow veteran at the Wounded Warrior Project who requested to remain anonymous for this article. He said that they are not allowed to purchase alcohol with organizational funds, and that many of the former employees who came forward were actually fired for good cause.
One might suspect that those former employees had an agenda in their attempt to come forward with allegations of improprieties. CBS News certainly could have found better sources.
So where does the money actually go? According to combat veteran Lukas Alvarez, to very good use. Alvarez said:
“I worked downrange at the Forward Surgical Team and associated Patient Hold area at Forward Operating Base Shank. Their care packs were invaluable. They came with a set of clothes, shower shoes, and toiletries. After a Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) took everything and blew it all to hell, we used some of them ourselves while we worked through the rubble to grab our clothes.”
There are many more veterans who have received attention and services from WWP that they attribute their life being saved to. In Minneapolis, one recently separated female veteran who was a victim of military sexual trauma (MST) has even received funds to lead small groups and seminars for other veterans who have experienced and suffer from the same atrocity. According to her, what she does wouldn’t be possible without the WWP’s funding.
The effects are wide reaching, and as a veteran, I don’t want to see an organization that has the resources to reach and help so many be put out of business because of inaccurate reporting. Lives are literally on the line when it comes to providing resources to veterans in need, and the WWP machine being taken out of the mix would leave many without the care and services they rely on.
That being said, where there is smoke there is usually fire. The organization needs to improve- and not just their damaged public image. There are far too many wounded veterans that have interacted with the organization that were left with a bad taste in their mouth. More money could be going directly to veterans to cover very real issues that often fall between the cracks of many programs and services.
They also need to do a better job of responding to every single veteran who reaches out for help, and not sending a request for donations as the first response either.
Despite their shortcomings, they are still the biggest veteran oriented charity that has the best shot at making
up for Veterans Administration shortfalls. Too many veterans are depending on Wounded Warrior Project to continue operating. Don’t leave them out in the cold over an ill informed and exaggerated investigative report.
Marty Skovlund, Jr. is a former Army Ranger, an award-winning independent film producer, and the author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror.
The author is not employed or affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project, and to date has not been a direct beneficiary of their funds or programs.