By Anne Szmul,
Domestic News Writer
A recent investigation by CBS News revealed disheartening data on a missing portion of donations to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).
The national non-profit, founded in 2003, has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past decade and, according to CBS and confirmed by a New York Times investigation, spent much of the donated money on lavish accommodations for employees and other internal events.
The organization’s financial statements showed 60 percent of donations going to veterans and its programs like Combat Stress Recovery. It should be noted that the remaining 40 percent includes ordinary overhead expenses like marketing and administrative expenses, as compared to 8 percent on overhead by other veterans’ charities.
Much of this information was revealed by former employees interviewed by various media outlets. More than 40 people spoke to the increase in wasteful spending that did not align with the focus of WWP.
They cited company wide meetings leading to business class flights and five-star hotel reservations for employees. Interviewees told CBS about money spent on other frivolous things such as CEO ,Steve Nardizzi, entering a 2014 event in Colorado Springs by repelling down the side of a ten-story building.
Beginning in 2003, Marine veteran John Melia saw the need for basic supplies for injured soldiers upon arriving at military hospitals in the States. After being injured in a helicopter crash in 1992 and returning to a hospital in the States, he was only given a hospital gown and that inspired him to take action.
Growing slowly, Melia and a few employees distributed backpacks containing items such as toothpaste and CD players to military hospitals. In 2009, the charity employed about 50 and was earning revenues of $21 million. Melia resigned after disagreeing with employee Steve Nardizzi, a lawyer previously involved in the United Spinal Association, about the future of WWP.
Under CEO Steve Nardizzi, Wounded Warriors Project is being modeled closer to for-profit entities. In an interview with the New York Times, Nardizzi said, “I look at companies like Starbucks—that’s the model. You’re looking at companies that are getting it right, treating their employees right, delivering great services and great products, then are growing the brand to support all that.”
The spending enables WWP to grow faster and serve more than the 80,000 veterans it estimates have used its services ranging from readjustment to society, finding jobs, and rehabilitation programs. Recently, the charity pledged to raise $500 million for supplemental health care for severely disabled veterans in a trust. Additional programs for PTSD and traumatic brain injuries have also been announced.
The majority of the money raised annually come from small donations for Americans over the age of 65, the total amount of contributions amounted to over $372 million dollars in 2015. Since becoming recognizable for its fundraising ability and size, the Wounded Warrior Project has become a brand name. Frequenters of the Prudential Center recognize members’ service at our men’s basketball team.
Due to the dubious spending, non-profit charity ranking organizations have consistently rated Wounded Warrior Project in the C range. Charity Navigator recently placed WWP on its watch list.
Taking pride in our veterans has always been synonymous with American values, and programs like the Wounded Warrior Project fund multiple programs to aid with life after service.
Roughly one third of the charity employees are veterans. This focus needs to be reflected in spending.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 23rd print edition.
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