(Note from author: For the past few months, I have been pondering whether or not to write about controversy surrounding Wounded Warrior Project but didn’t want to stir things up. I put it aside, thinking that if something needed to be written, the opportunity would present itself. For the past couple of days Twitter has been lit up with folks from both sides having valid concerns and opinions, so after being asked by a Veteran friend to write about it, I knew it was time. This is not meant as a ‘hit piece’ on Wounded Warrior Project. They have done much for many Veterans over the years. I am not a Veteran; I’ve never served, I am not trained or qualified to work with disabled Veterans, I have no involvement except donating to organizations which support and help Troops and Veterans, and so I am not trying to disparage either the organization or those who seem to have valid claims against them. What I’m trying to do is show both sides of this story to provide as much available information as possible. Ronald Reagan is known for one of the most popular quotes, “Trust but verify”; that is what I am asking my readers to do with this article, with this organization or any organization for that matter.)
Over the past few months, various articles have been written about Wounded Warriors Project, claiming that the organization is “fraudulent” and is using Veterans to make money. Twitter has been ablaze with debate about it, and I’ve hesitated commenting because over the years I have personally donated to and supported WWP. However, after reading both sides of the story I, too, have questions regarding their dedication to give as much as possible to those Veterans who go to them for help. I’ve heard stories from veterans who have questions, as well as smaller organizations that are trying to help our troops and Veterans. What follows are some of the main disputes being challenged.
1. The organization’s president makes upward and over $300,000 a year, which for a nonprofit is a mighty generous salary. I’ve also heard complaints that include the amount of funding which actually goes towards helping Veterans, as opposed to how much goes to employees, as there are very few non-paid volunteers and fewer combat Veterans employed at any of their offices.
Looking at Charity Navigator, WWP’s 2012 ratings are:
Overall score: 54.39 out of 70
Finances score: 48.29 out of 70
Accountability and Transparency score: 66 out of 70
Another item in dispute is that the percent of the charity’s budget spent on the programs and services it delivers is listed at 57.9%, which is considerably less than the 81.6% listed on the WWP webpage. Their website claims only 3.8% of funds are spent on administrative costs, but Charity Navigator claims it is 5.6%, with fundraising expenses of 46.3%. I can’t find any actual pay statements for salaries for employees and management, although WWP was rated as the top nonprofit organization to for work for 2011- 2013. Each nonprofit that was rated provided information on such areas as benefits and employment practices. Employees were given a confidential survey of statements with which they could agree or disagree covering eight general categories including Corporate Culture and Communications, Role Satisfaction, Work Environment, Relationship with Supervisor, and Pay and Benefits. (For more, the Tampa Bay Times also wrote an investigative report this past July on WWP, which expands on this issue.)
Looking at employee reviews, one can get a more complete feel for the organization as a whole.
As with others who donate to any organization, when I donate, I want every cent to count, especially when I can’t send very much at a time. When one donates to a nonprofit organization, one would hope that most money would go to the beneficiaries, not to pay the salaries of employees or Executives. There is nothing wrong with earning wages, but many people on a tight income want to donate because we want to help people. There are other organizations that do use almost all of donations for their beneficiaries–and to most average folks, that’s more of the spirit of a nonprofit. However, to be fair, that is just personal opinion. When I donate now, I investigate to see where my money will go. I’ve found that more of my money is spent where I believe it should be with smaller organizations that don’t have such overhead and fundraising costs.
2. In Florida earlier this year, a Baptist Church and Academy raised funds for WWP but their donation was denied because they were ‘religious in nature’. According to the pastor, organizers expected to collect up to $50,000 for the WWP. This included kids and parents, with the Academy who submitted a $100 fee to WWP for the ability to fundraise for the Wounded Warriors, with one class that had raised $400 before the fundraiser had even officially begun. However when the organization found out it was a Baptist affiliated Academy, WWP stated that they did not accept funds from religious organizations. When considering that $50,000 is a generous sum which could help Veterans, it seems that WWP would not have a problem accepting it for the Veterans.
After experiencing major public backlash about this, WWPHYPERLINK “http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/wounded-warrior-project-apologizes-for-rejecting-church-donation.html” had to do some back peddling, ultimately telling FOX News, “It was a mistake… We reached out to the church and gave them our sincerest apologies and told them we would welcome their events.”
3. WWP would not accept an invitation to speak about the WWP on Gun Talk Radio with Tom Gresham, because the show was related to ‘fire arms’, and was a conflict of interest. Needless to say, this caused quite a stir among 2nd Amendment supporters, hunters, gun enthusiasts and Veterans. The WWP issueHYPERLINK “https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10151256727408415&id=8532248414&p=20&refid=52″dHYPERLINK “https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10151256727408415&id=8532248414&p=20&refid=52” a statement on their Facebook page to try and settle the matter, yet it still seems troubling that an organization which doesn’t mind having many hunting groups and Gun enthusiasts raise money and give to their organization, they seem to want to disassociate themselves from the same groups by saying that “as an apolitical organization” they “do not take a stance” on issues like 2nd Amendment rights.
4. WWP hires many former VA employees–which some believe means WWP is getting more federal grants than other similar nonprofits. While I can’t find verification one way or another on this issue, looking at their website at the programs and services they offer, many are affiliated with Walter Reed and other Government agencies, including the VA and DOD, which would indicate that there are some on staff who know their way around the government.
5. WWP is not collaborating enough with organizations that are working towards the same goals in helping Veterans. It seems that while WWP has no problem sending Veterans to other smaller organizations for services which WWP doesn’t provide, some organizations I’ve talked to claim that when they requested help from WWP, they were either not responsive or didn’t give help.
Looking through their website, WWP has given grants in the second cycle for 2013 to over 20 organizations country wide. They claim that to date, they have helped 70 organizations and given 5 million dollars total. From what I gather from looking at the website, while I know some great organizations that have not been given help or sponsorship for fundraising events, it appears that WWP does help other organizations, but have stringent policies and request procedures to follow.
6. WWP uses Veterans and cHYPERLINK “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d2PiQ4ihK0″elebrities for commercials while not telling what they actual provide to Veterans–especially not openly disclosing that they do not provide financial help. We’ve all seen advertising of wounded Veterans at WWP-sponsored events, smiling and having fun; however, some of these Veterans that are given free tickets and WWP T-shirts desperately need financial assistance and aren’t getting it. I’ve heard from many Veterans who have said that they have tried to contact WWP for help with procedural medical aid or financial help, but instead of getting information they got replies offering them free tickets to a sporting or some other event, at which they would be given a free WWP T-shirt to wear and/or donations for items for their backpacks, but are either told the WWP doesn’t provide the service they need or are directed elsewhere.
The WWP website gives an outline of what they provide, for Mind, Body, Economic Empowerment and Engagement. They provide service through interactive programs, outdoor rehabilitative retreats, peer support, sports, recreational activities, higher education programs, information technology training, employment assistance services, Policy & Government affairs program and a Benefits Service program among other services.
If you have questions about any of this, my best advice is that you contact the office in your area to find out exactly what they provide. Some of the programs seem to be localized and not country wide, so what may be readily available in one state, may not be somewhere else. Overall, WWP still accomplishes much for many Veterans, as do many smaller organizations. And again, I hope people will take the time to trust and verify–not only Wounded Warrior Project, but also all organizations and make an informed decision. We need to help our Nation’s Heroes because they have given so much for all of us. While there are still issues which may be unresolved, the more we discuss them, hopefully steps can be taken so those Veterans and returning Troops who most need help will receive it.