In a damning CBS News report, 40 former employees are accusing veterans charity the Wounded Warrior Project of misusing its donations on staff parties and conferences instead of its programs.
Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in the Iraq War. He was a longtime admirer of the Wounded Warrior Project’s mission and accepted a position as a public speaker in 2013. However, Millette said he quit two years later because he could no longer stand watching the charity waste its money on huge events.
“You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties,” Millette told CBS News.
According to nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator, the Wounded Warrior Project received $307,325,253 in donor contributions and gifts in 2014. However, only 60 percent of that money went towards the Wounded Warrior Project’s veterans programs. Where did the rest of the money go?
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.
The Wounded Warrior Project Director of Alumni Captain Ryan Kules offered the only official explanation for this spending: “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.”
Kules also denied that the Colorado conference cost $3 million, though he didn’t actually attend the event.
Millette will continue to speak out against the veterans charity.
“WWP and those donor dollars trained me to speak and be a voice, and that’s exactly what I’m doing,” said Millette. “I’m sorry, but I’ll be damned if you’re gonna take hard-working Americans’ money and drink it and waste it.”
In 2015, the charity also come under fire for suing smaller nonprofits for using similar branding. The Wounded Warrior Project’s crusade against other charities that use the term ‘wounded warrior’ incurs thousands in legal fees. If helping veterans is the goal, we wonder why its so important to sue other charities who are doing the same thing.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess)