A new topic trending through the military community is bringing to light the question of who can we trust.
Over the last few days, social media has exploded around one of the most recognizable charities, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) – a veterans’ service organization that offers programs, service and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following the events of 9/11. A CBS News investigation revealed some three dozen former employees of WWP questioning the practices of the prominent nonprofit. The story spread like wildfire through military news and blog websites. Foes and allies of the organization quickly offered up their own experiences in dealing with them, leaving others to seek the facts somewhere in the middle of both sides.
My own friends and acquaintances are talking about it, sharing and re-sharing articles that I first noticed roughly eight months ago, which included a viral report of a warrior and his family being denied emergency assistance. However, many failed to recognize that the help being requested was assistance that is not part of the Wounded Warrior Project’s services. And while every charity wants to be able to help everyone, the nonprofits currently supporting veterans and their families are numerous. So what is it that is bothering people? Is it simply the nature of the support needed, a growing number of military families needing a wider range of assistance and support, the likes of which we have never seen before? Is it the fact that we feel as though the only time we ever hear from WWP is when they are suing other charities?
Onlookers didn’t have to wait long for the organization to respond to the CBS report. The charity sent an email with its own clarification of several points within the news reporting. One of the largest discrepancies highlighted in WWP’s response is the percentage spent helping the actual wounded and their families – reported at around 60 percent by CBS, the Wounded Warrior Project countered with just over 80 percent. The next disagreement the organization raised was over the topic of conferences. CBS reported WWP’s annual event was one lump sum to the tune of almost twenty-seven million dollar; WWP argued it to be much lower. CBS implies this number includes only events for staff, while WWP states that 94 percent of this was meetings and conferences for veterans and caregivers. Is the fault of WWP now partially a generalized IRS grouping?
Another hotly contested topic is the amount of money made by the CEO, Steven Nardizzi. On the outside, $473, 015 may seem like a lot, especially if you believe the argument that only 60 percent of funding is actually helping the wounded. Charity Navigator reports that his take is only 0.19% of expenses. That isn’t even 1 percent, and is less than the percentage taken by similar and well-known military-focused charities listed on the site. So while the amount of money they take is less, their percentage is higher. People may seem uncomfortable with the idea of someone within a non-profit making money, but should we really expect them to work for free?
A brief search on the internet will get you several articles discussing the amount of money some of the wealthiest non-profit CEOs make. Again, one of the issues may be the nature of the nonprofit and the appearance that the population they serve is in great need currently.
Some caregivers are quick to acknowledge both the good and the bad about the Wounded Warrior Project, pointing out that it often gives large grants to many smaller scale nonprofits including TAPS, Easter Seals, Lone Survivor Foundation, Pat Tillman Foundation, as well as twenty-eight million dollars to their long term support trust. One caregiver spouse, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “I will say WWP’s visibility makes them a target. And if someone is in the hospital and needs help and WWP is all they see, they will expect it. I would think, though, a WWP employee would know what organizations do provide direct help and would make that connection for a stressed family member. I have on more than one occasion wondered about their training and employee selection. But seriously, they do a lot of good.”
One overall consensus seems to be that maybe the charity needs to do better with its public image by being more transparent. The appearance of impropriety and secrecy can leave more questions than answers while letting rumors take on a life of their own.
Supporters of the WWP have created a social media event to support the organization’s efforts: https://www.facebook.com/events/433673496831065/
Homefront United Network will continue to explore this subject as more information is made available.