Vets accuse Wounded Warrior Project of failing to adequately follow up on cases

The disturbing news that broke yesterday about the veterans' charity Wounded Warrior Project spending lavishly on perks for management and staff is only half the story.

CBS news is also reporting that the much ballyhooed WWP programs to help wounded vets are sometimes covers for additional fundraising, and that follow-up contact by the charity is haphazard and sometimes nonexistent.

CBS:

"What happens when you make a suggestion that there's a better way to serve veterans?" Reid asked.

"If you use your brain and come up with an idea, within a matter of time, you're 'off the bus,'" the other employee said.

"They don't need you. It's their way or the highway," he added.

"I would raise issues. Why aren't we doing follow up? Why don't we have any case management?" Millette said.

"How would they respond?" Reid asked.

"'We don't call warriors. Warriors call us,'" Millette recalled. "Again, as a disabled veteran, it just makes me sick."

The organization declined our repeated requests to interview Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi, but the charity offered us Capt. Ryan Kules, a recipient of its programs and services and its director of alumni.

"Wounded Warrior Project contacts alumni and family support members multiple times over the course of the year, we call each and every one of our alumni and family support members on their birth month to be able to ensure and check in, see how they're doing, and see if they need other programs and services," Kules said. "And then also have multiple opportunities for them, and us to follow up and see how they are doing."

Marc Owens is a former director of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS.

"What was your biggest concern in reading these forms?" Reid asked him, showing him the WWP tax forms.

"That I couldn't tell the number of people that were assisted," Owens said. "I thought that was truly unusual."

"They do put some of those numbers on the website," Reid pointed out.

"Yes, they do," Owens responded.

But what's the difference?

"Form 990 is signed under the penalties of perjury," Owens said.

"You have to be careful on there," Reid said.

"That's right, you have to be certain," Owens said.

Millette said he expects retaliation from Wounded Warrior Project, but said that won't stop him.

"As a disabled veteran, I feel that other veterans need a voice. I am in a position where I can be their voice," he said. "And I feel if I don't stand up and do what I feel is right, and voice their concerns, what I've heard, and how I feel, then I'm leaving them behind."

CBS has made quite a splash with this investigation, but The Daily Beast made similar accusations in September 2015. 

WWP spends more than 40% of its income on overhead – staff salaries, headquarters operations, and other non-program expenditures.  As a comparison, the American Red Cross spends 92% of its income on programs.  The industry average is about 18%.

Some charities spend more on overhead for a variety of legitimate reasons.  The American Cancer Society spends about 40% on overhead, but it also runs several research labs. 

Bottom line: Wounded Warrior Project is not as it represents itself in its fundraising.  It is certainly not helping as many wounded veterans as it could or should, which calls for a wholesale overhaul of the charity's management.

The disturbing news that broke yesterday about the veterans' charity Wounded Warrior Project spending lavishly on perks for management and staff is only half the story.

CBS news is also reporting that the much ballyhooed WWP programs to help wounded vets are sometimes covers for additional fundraising, and that follow-up contact by the charity is haphazard and sometimes nonexistent.

CBS:

"What happens when you make a suggestion that there's a better way to serve veterans?" Reid asked.

"If you use your brain and come up with an idea, within a matter of time, you're 'off the bus,'" the other employee said.

"They don't need you. It's their way or the highway," he added.

"I would raise issues. Why aren't we doing follow up? Why don't we have any case management?" Millette said.

"How would they respond?" Reid asked.

"'We don't call warriors. Warriors call us,'" Millette recalled. "Again, as a disabled veteran, it just makes me sick."

The organization declined our repeated requests to interview Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi, but the charity offered us Capt. Ryan Kules, a recipient of its programs and services and its director of alumni.

"Wounded Warrior Project contacts alumni and family support members multiple times over the course of the year, we call each and every one of our alumni and family support members on their birth month to be able to ensure and check in, see how they're doing, and see if they need other programs and services," Kules said. "And then also have multiple opportunities for them, and us to follow up and see how they are doing."

Marc Owens is a former director of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS.

"What was your biggest concern in reading these forms?" Reid asked him, showing him the WWP tax forms.

"That I couldn't tell the number of people that were assisted," Owens said. "I thought that was truly unusual."

"They do put some of those numbers on the website," Reid pointed out.

"Yes, they do," Owens responded.

But what's the difference?

"Form 990 is signed under the penalties of perjury," Owens said.

"You have to be careful on there," Reid said.

"That's right, you have to be certain," Owens said.

Millette said he expects retaliation from Wounded Warrior Project, but said that won't stop him.

"As a disabled veteran, I feel that other veterans need a voice. I am in a position where I can be their voice," he said. "And I feel if I don't stand up and do what I feel is right, and voice their concerns, what I've heard, and how I feel, then I'm leaving them behind."

CBS has made quite a splash with this investigation, but The Daily Beast made similar accusations in September 2015. 

WWP spends more than 40% of its income on overhead – staff salaries, headquarters operations, and other non-program expenditures.  As a comparison, the American Red Cross spends 92% of its income on programs.  The industry average is about 18%.

Some charities spend more on overhead for a variety of legitimate reasons.  The American Cancer Society spends about 40% on overhead, but it also runs several research labs. 

Bottom line: Wounded Warrior Project is not as it represents itself in its fundraising.  It is certainly not helping as many wounded veterans as it could or should, which calls for a wholesale overhaul of the charity's management.