Wounded Warriors Fights Back While Firing Two Top Execs

The Wounded Warrior Project, which hired a law firm and accounting practice to investigate charges and a crisis management firm to mitigate the damage after allegations of wanton spending and extravagant staff-bonding meetings surfaced in separate reports by CBS and the New York Times in January, announced Thursday that CEO Steven Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano have departed.

In a news release on its website, however, the WWP headline proclaims: “Review Finds WWP is Steadfast in its Mission to Serving Thousands of Warriors, Caregivers and Family Members, and That Certain Allegations Raised Were Inaccurate.”

A subhed tells us that Nardizziand Giordano “Are No Longer with WWP,” but that development is buried well below three paragraphs and six bullet points that take issue with the media reports. At that point, the WWP says the review by external legal counsel Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and forensic accounting consultants FTI Consulting “also found that some policies, procedures and controls at WWP have not kept pace with the organization’s rapid growth.” 



The release, which was distributed by crisis-management public-relations firm Abernathy MacGregor, Dave Philipps tells us in the New York Times, “confirmed many of the findings” in the two exposés.

It also announced that WWP is looking for a new CEO and that it has created an “office of the CEO” consisting of existing senior executives led by chairman Anthony Odierno that “will oversee the organization on a temporary basis.” 

“In the wake of the [January CBS and New York Times] reports, Wounded Warrior Project issued a statement attacking them as false and accusing CBS of not contacting the chair of the Wounded Warrior Project’s audit committee prior to running their story,” the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports. “The organization also took to social media, responding to numerous concerns and attacks on its Facebook page.”

Yesterday, “board members and Wounded Warrior Project officials did not return calls seeking comment,” the NYT’s Philipps reports. “But Erick Millette, a former employee who was quoted about his disillusionment with the organization in the January article, said a board member, Richard Jones, had contacted him Thursday and thanked him for speaking out about problems at the charity.”

The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reports on an extensive interview with Millette, who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his 11-year stint in the army, including a 2006 tour in Iraq where he was wounded. “It’s cult, it really is … it’s like how you would train a monkey, if you do something give them a piece of candy — in this case you give them a T-shirt or a polo… it’s extreme intimidation,” Millette tells him.

Mak also reminds us “The Daily Beast first reported on the Wounded Warrior Project’s problems in 2014 when concerns within the veterans community emerged that the charity had become more of a perpetual fundraising machine than a service organization.”

In recapping its three-part investigation that aired in January, CBS News’ Chip Reid and Jennifer Janisch write: “What caught our attention is how the Wounded Warrior Project spends donations compared to other long-respected charities. For example, Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust spends 96% of its budget on vets. Fisher House devotes 91%. But according to public records reported by ‘Charity Navigator,’ the Wounded Warrior Project spends 60% on vets.”

In documenting the spending on “lavish employee conferences — $26 million in 2014” and other extravagances, CBS talked to more than 40 former employees, Reid and Janisch remind us in their coverage of yesterday’s announcement. 

“It was extremely extravagant. Dinners and alcohol and just total excess,” one source told them. “I mean, it's what the military calls fraud waste and abuse.”

The first bullet point in the WWP release yesterday states: “WWP’s most recent audited financial statement, which is based on application of established accounting principles, states that WWP spends 80.6% of donations on programming.” Among the other rebuttals: “The cost of the 2014 All-Hands held at the Broadmoor Resort was approximately $970,000 — significantly less than the $3 million figure reported by the media” but it also says “such events will be curtailed.” 

In his January reporting, the NYT’s Philipps pointed out that the charity “has 22 locations offering programs to help veterans readjust to society, attend school, find work and participate in athletics. It contributes millions to smaller veterans groups. And it has become a brand name, its logo emblazoned on sneakers, paper towel packs and television commercials that run dozens of times.”

But, he pointed out, “it has also embraced aggressive styles of fund-raising, marketing and personnel management that have many current and former employees questioning whether it has drifted from its mission.”

2 comments about "Wounded Warriors Fights Back While Firing Two Top Execs".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 11, 2016 at 9:18 a.m.

    So many other brands and companies have made mistakes in crisis communications, one would think those are docmented well enough that no one repeats them. Still, it happens. And people wonder how that could be.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 11, 2016 at 10:13 a.m.

    Any "charity" that can afford the expensive TV ads, collects money to support those ads and does not support the end users. Give directly to the charites of choice and check them out first. VA hospitals very badly need: socks, disposable shavers, sweat shirts and pants, t-shirts, flip flops/slippers, pajamas - for starters. The men and women who use the VA do not have private insurance, many come from outside the VA location without local family/friends to brings them daily needs - No, the government does not provide clothes, etc. and some of the people, especially the older veterans do not have people. The VA volunteer services also work with homeless vets, hospice, nursing homes. Want to help vets ? Give directly. There are other ways, too, to volunteer time and expertise.

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