Don’t be Duped by Charitable Organizations for Veterans

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It seems like every year we have a major scandal involving a charitable organization that claims to support Veterans.  Last year, the largest Veteran charitable organization, the Wounded Warriors Project (“WWP”), came under scrutiny after it was discovered that a significant percentage of funds raised by WWP served as compensation or incentives for the WWP staff rather than being channeled into programs that truly benefit Veterans or their loved ones.

IAVA  -  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

WWP was not the first Veteran charitable organization to show its feet of clay, but now the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (“IAVA”) is coming under intense public scrutiny.  Jonah Bennett, a reporter for the Daily Caller, notes the following:

Former employees of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one of the largest veterans’ advocacy organizations in the country, allege that the charity’s CEO has abused staff and pressured employees to lie about grant funds and project success to mislead donors.

Seven former employees of IAVA spoke to The Daily Caller News Foundation and said among other things that CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an Army first lieutenant, has fostered an environment that puts pressure on employees to aggressively fiddle with numbers so that grant finances and grant project goals can be listed as complete.

Needless to say, CEO Paul Rieckhoff has “denied allegations that he had pressured the staff to misuse grant money and mislead donors.”   Nevertheless, it represents yet another blemish on fund-raising efforts by charitable organizations that claim to support Veterans.

Problems within the IAVA date back several years when a 2014 letter from a former employee to the IAVA Board “asks for Rieckhoff to step down as CEO, citing a long history of poor relations with donors, high staff turnover and misspending grant funds.”   Calls by the Daily Caller to “Rieckhoff’s personal cell phone went unanswered.”

 

While it is difficult to know which – if any – of the allegations by former employees of IAVA are true, hints of discontent within the organization have been widely known for several years.  Whether these allegations are true or not,  the repercussions will likely be severe for both IAVA and many other charitable organizations focused on supporting Veterans.

Sadly, many charitable organizations that seek to support Veterans are strapped for cash to fund even the smallest programs.  Well-intentioned efforts fail because the principals simply don’t have the experience or capabilities to raise funds for Veteran programs.  Others fail because they simply don’t have the “right” infrastructure to attract charitable funding.

With large organizations like IAVA and the WWP, the pursuit of funding tragically becomes far more important than the causes they support.  This may well be an over-generalization, but  funding becomes critical to support the many deserving Veteran programs that require an almost constant supply of fresh financial resources.

It is not surprising that the leadership of so many well-meaning Veteran organizations gets trapped by the dilemma of balancing the needs of Veterans and their ongoing fund-raising efforts.   As we have seen in the case of WWP and now IAVA (apparently), the lure of attracting additional resources appears to outweigh the needs of Veterans they claim to support.

What to Look for in a Veteran Charitable Organization

There are no hard and fast rules for determining which charitable organization(s) is/are most effective in meeting the needs of Veterans, but there are certainly a few common themes:

– The integrity of the Administrators and Board Members;
– Projects clearly segregated for direct contributions by donors;
– Clear (and auditable) guidelines on how contributions will be allocated;
– Annual audit reports and regular project updates to donors to let them know how funds are being deployed;
– Independent advisory board consisting of charitable organizations to supervise and administer grants.

Tell-tale Signs of Abuse in Veteran Charitable Organizations

It is difficult to generalize on the “signs of abuse” within a charitable organization, but if it looks “too good to be true” the program is probably a sham.   Found below are just a few tell-tale signs that the “hype” is greater than “real” programs to support Veterans:

– Public outings with Veterans (baseball games or other sporting events) is a sure sign that   it is a staged PR event with little or no lasting benefit to the Veteran or his/her family;
– Lack of distinction between general purpose funding ($19 a month, for instance) and funding for specific identifiable programs for Veterans (i.e. Hyperbaric Oxygen, PTSD research, defined occupational training program, etc.);
– Does the charitable website intelligently focus on specific Veteran support programs or does it focus instead on pulling the donor’s heartstrings?
– Who are the Board Members and do written guidelines of corporate governance exist?
– Are audited financial statements and charitable organization credentials easily found on the website?

SFTT takes no great pleasure in commenting on problems of a prominent Veteran charitable organization, but if these allegations ring true, it gravely affects the funding of all organizations that seek to support our brave Veterans.

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Wounded Warriors Project: Mea culpa? Not really!

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Wounded Warriors Project -  Con Game with Veterans

In yet another chapter of supreme arrogance and/or delusional behavior, Wounded Warriors Project (“WWP”) is issuing the following note to “dedicated supporters” – excerpts of which are quoted below:

The Board of WWP has received the results of a review about allegations raised in the news about WWP.  In connection with this independent and objective review, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has been serving as the Board’s legal counsel and FTI Consulting has been providing forensic accounting services.

The review found that 80.6 percent of the donations given to WWP go to support warriors’ and their families’ participation in our 20 free, direct programs and services. The organization’s commitment to injured service members, their caregivers and family members remains steadfast.

However, the review also found that some policies, procedures and controls at WWP have not kept pace with the organization’s rapid growth over the last few years and are in need of strengthening.

To put these changes into effect and help restore the trust in the organization among all of the constituencies WWP serves, the Board determined the organization would benefit from new leadership.  As such, effectively immediately, CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano are no longer with the organization.

What remains undisputed is that WWP has helped and continues to help thousands of wounded veterans on a daily basis, and we remain extremely grateful to people like you whose extraordinary generosity makes that work possible.

Now, if you sincerely believe this self-serving nonsense, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn that I will sell you quite cheaply.

Clearly, this is a desperate appeal to donors who have been fleeced by an organization which – at best – has “lost its way,” or – in my opinion – cynically used the tragic plight of Veterans to line the pockets of WWP’s organizers and administrators.

WWP - Meetings

Source: www.actionnewsjax.com

 

Pardon me, but you don’t need “forensic accounting services” to tell you that fund-raising has always been a more important priority to its organizers than helping Veterans recover their lives.  Most of WWP’s expenditures for the 20 or so WWP programs to aid Veterans can be classified as “feel good” programs with little tangible long term benefits for either the Veteran or their loved ones.

Nevertheless, these “feel good” programs are great fund-raisers, which simply exploits Veterans for the benefit of their organizers.  Such hypocrisy!

The New York Times reports today that Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and a member of the Senate Finance committee “is asking for a detailed accounting by the country’s largest veterans’ charity.”   Senator Grassley correctly argues that:

“If true, these allegations are a breach of faith with donors, taxpayers, and, more importantly, veterans,”

As a “dedicated supporter” of Veteran causes, WWP has lost my trust and I believe that this self-serving apology is simply an indication of WWP’s continued arrogance and insincerity.

If WWP wants to regain my support and the support of other genuinely concerned donors, then the Board of Directors and current executive leadership should resign immediately.   Furthermore, any existing monies or new contributions should be placed in an escrow account and disbursed only through a court-appointed Trustee.

This Trustee should appoint an independent third-party to administer existing programs, review all personnel practices and funding decisions and make recommendations as to which of the 20 or so programs should be allowed to continue, scrapped or modified.

Anything short of getting rid of the current crop of “bad apples,” who are currently running or overseeing WWP, is simply a slap-in-the-face to this organization’s donors, Veterans and their loved ones.

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Military News – Week of March 13, 2016

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Found below are few military news items that surfaced during the last week that caught my attention. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that interest them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) attracts Congressional Scrutiny
A week after the top executives of the Wounded Warrior Project were fired amid accusations of lavish spending, an influential senator on a committee that oversees nonprofit organizations is asking for a detailed accounting by the country’s largest veterans’ charity.   Read more . . .

Ben Weller - Reuters

PAWS: Republican lawmakers’ bill would give veterans puppies for PTSD
Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a five-year pilot program pairing veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with a service dog.  Read more . . .

Veteran Unemployment hits 7-year low in October
Unemployment among all veterans reached a seven-year low last month, and the jobless rate among Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans set a new record low in October, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday.  Read more . . .

US Military is looking at Cyborg Soldiers
War may be as old as time itself, but the technology behind it seems to be developing at a breakneck speed. And in the United States, cyborg soldiers are inching closer and closer to reality, as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks to develop an implantable brain chip that would create a direct connection between a human and a computer.   Read more . . .

VA Roles Out Plan to Reduce Veteran Suicides
The Department of Veteran Affairs is rolling out new initiatives to help reduce veteran suicides.  The new plan is the result of a summit that took place in February with VA leaders, health care professionals and veteran organizations. The VA undersecretary for health, Dr. David Shulkin, said roughly 8,000 veterans commit suicide a year.  Read more . . .

Image from Film Full Metal Jacket

Army Takes On Its Own Toxic Leaders
Top commanders in the U.S. Army have announced publicly that they have a problem: They have too many “toxic leaders” — the kind of bosses who make their employees miserable. Many corporations share a similar problem, but in the Army’s case, destructive leadership can potentially have life or death consequences. So, some Army researchers are wondering if toxic officers have contributed to soldiers’ mental health problems.  Read more . . .

Join SFTT in helping get our Veterans the support they deserve.

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Management Firings at Wounded Warrior Project

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In a not too surprising announcement, Wounded Warrior Project’s (“WWP“) Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, and Chief Operating Officer, Al Giordano, were fired after a meeting Thursday afternoon in New York.

Steven Nardizzi, former WWP CEO

Steven Nardizzi, former WWP CEO

The firing stems from investigations into this charitable organization that led investigators and the Board to conclude that WWP’s administrators appeared to benefit more financially than the “wounded warriors” the organization was designed to support.

The New York Times reported yesterday that:

In reports by CBS News and The New York Times in January, current and former employees described the organization’s spending millions on employee retreats and first-class airfare while building programs for veterans that were useful for marketing but did little to serve veterans’ needs. The group spent 40 percent of donations on overhead, according to charity watchdog groups.

As scrutiny of the group’s spending grew in recent years, the Wounded Warrior Project spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations and lobbying campaigns to deflect criticism of its spending and to fight legislative efforts to restrict how much nonprofits spend on overhead.

Quoting from a press release issued by WWP,  the New York Times reports that Board Chairman, Anthony Odierno, will temporarily take control of the charity. according to the release. “Mr. Odierno, a retired Army captain who was wounded in Iraq, is the son of Gen. Raymond Odierno, a former chief of staff of the Army.”

The crucial issue is this:  Can the culture at WWP be changed from that of focus on PR-driven, feel-good events to one of support for live-changing therapies – expensive, long-term and with probable less-than-desired successes?

Based on the previous dismal record of WWP, and the reality that outside pressure was required to force firing the executive duo, what is the likelihood that truly meaningful change will happen? Can the same Board that finally did the right thing (and only after a huge spotlight forced their hand), be counted on to transform the organization?

We wish them every success, but history tells us that the odds are not good for such cultural change when the same Board was complicit for years of ongoing corporate misfeasance yet continues to control the organization.

Hopefully, new administrators will right the ship, but many other charitable organizations that genuinely want to help Veterans have greatly suffered over these years by the dreadful improprieties of WWP.  Such a shame.

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News Highlights – Week of March 6, 2016

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Found below are few military news items that surfaced during the last week that caught my attention. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that interest them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) attracts attention of Doonesbury
It was only a matter of time before the scathing humor of Gary Trudeau captured the tragedy unfolding with Wounded Warrior Project which appears to place the financial interests of its administrators in front of the needs of Veterans.  Such a shame!   Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Legislation would halt bad military discharges due to PTSD, TBI
Last week, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan introduced legislation to ensure that military discharge review boards must consider troops’ mental health issues, and must accept a PTSD or TBI diagnosis from a professional as an acceptable rebuttal to a dismissal.   Read more . . .

House approves bill to consider PTSD as circumstance when sentencing veterans
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that will “expand current law to enable judges to consider a diagnosis of PTSD as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD, prior to being charged with a crime”.  Would be nice to see this type of legislation in all states.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Service dogs aid veterans with PTSD
The service dog is trained to wake Sergeant Petz from his nightmares. Bosko is the first service dog provided by the Paws Forces, a new program of the Maumee-based the Arms Forces that helps veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries get services.  Read more . . .

Veterans Aware: PTSD primer
I work for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Readjustment Counseling Service at the St. George Vet Center. I work with veterans who have been deployed in areas of active American combat operations, veterans who have traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and folks who have experienced any variety of service-connected traumatic experience that has left them disabled emotionally or physically.  Read more  . . .

Buprenorphine May Beat Opioids for Triad of Pain, PTSD, SUDs
In a retrospective cohort study, investigators found that twice as many veterans treated with the partial nociceptin opioid receptor agonist experienced improvement in PTSD symptoms, beginning at 8 months and increasing over time. In contrast, those treated with opioids experienced a worsening of symptoms.   SFTT is not a big fan of prescription drugs – be careful!  Read more . . .

Join SFTT in helping get our Veterans the support they deserve.

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Wounded Warrior Project Has Feet of Clay

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What quite a few of us have known for some time – and many more have suspected -The Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) appears to place the financial interests of its administrators over the needs of wounded Veterans. In a damning article recently published by The New York Times, The Wounded Warriors Project comes across as an organization built on the hypocrisy and greed of its administrators rather than truly helping wounded Veterans.

Others in the media like CBS (see video above and read the CBS news coverage) continue to follow this story and it seems likely that changes will occur within WWP to redress the balance of contributions that actually go to Veterans rather than its organizers.  I certainly hope so.

I take no great pleasure in continuing to flog WPP in the media, but I was upset by a comment I read in The New York Times suggesting that the WWP organizers should be properly compensating for raising this much money for Veterans and that it is “better than nothing.” In fact, I was more than upset, I was pissed off by this silly rationalization. Let me explain why?

– Most of the contributions raised by WWP came from people over 65 (Viet Nam Vets?).  If a contributor to a “good cause” feels that they have been betrayed by its fundraisers, won’t they be less inclined to support other Veteran programs with integrity?
– The Wounded Warrior Project sucked all of the air out of the room for other organizations that had a similar mission to help Veterans.  In other words, many Veterans were deprived of much needed support since a large percentage of the money went to WWP administrators rather than Vets.
– Many small and worthwhile organizations are financially struggling to support our Veterans and disclosures like the greediness within WWP will only make if more difficult for these organizations to raise funds.
– While I am delighted that some Veterans received support from WWP, I shed a tear for the many Veterans that were not served because of the greed and self-interest of its administrators.

Which brings us to the news that several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

My question is quite simple:  What have these “touch-feely” politicians done to overhaul the Veterans Administration with its $170 billion annual budget during the time they spend in office?   Far too little in my estimation.  Over its brief history, WWP has raised under $1 billion ($750 million, but my estimate) – THIS IS LESS THAT 0.6% OF THE ANNUAL BUDGET OF THE VA.

Talk about “too big to fail,”  the VA is simply “too big” and “too bureaucratic” to provide the services our brave Veterans require.  Personally, I would like to see Veteran organizations take on the “big elephant” in the room – the VA – rather than quibble about how they feel “used” by political candidates.  This is the “fight” that our elected leaders need to embrace if they want to truly help our Veterans.

In my opinion, the VA needs to be radically repurposed and decentralized to provide meaningful support to our Veterans.  Big Pharma and politicians who feed at the trough of lobbyists will probably be opposed, but if you want to solve the problem, you need to deal with the corruption and self-interest groups within the VA first!

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