Wounded Warrior Project probed for lavish spending while vets suffer By Bruce Golding January 28, 2016 | 12:09am The nation’s leading charity for injured war veterans is taking shots from battle-scarred soldiers who claim it’s a boondoggle that’s more focused on raising and squandering money than helping out ailing American heroes. Dozens of ex-employees of the Wounded Warrior Project — including many disabled vets — have revealed lavish spending on luxury travel, fancy meals and swanky getaways that rivals the amount spent on its combat stress-recovery program. One former staffer said the group’s “extremely extravagant” outlays amount to “what the military calls fraud, waste and abuse,” CBS News reported. “A lot of the warriors I saw needed mental-health treatment. They don’t get that from Wounded Warrior Project,” an ex-worker told the network. Retired Army Staff Sgt. Erick Millette — who sustained a traumatic brain injury during the Iraq War and still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder — said he quit working as a public speaker for the group in disgust over its practices. “You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties,” he told CBS. “I’m sorry, but I’ll be damned if you’re gonna take hard-working Americans’ money and drink it and waste it.” The Wounded Warrior Project was was founded in 2003 as a grassroots charity that distributed toiletries and other items to hospitalized Iraq War vets. Actor Dean Norris attends a Wounded Warrior Project event in 2013.Photo: WireImage Since then, it’s turned into a fund-raising behemoth, raking in more than $1 billion in total donations and eclipsing other veterans’ charities in both size and stature. It’s been aided in that effort by TV commercials featuring celebs such as Bruce Willis, country music singer Trace Adkins and actor Dean Norris, who played DEA agent Hank Schrader on “Breaking Bad.” Last year alone, Wounded Warrior Project collected more than $372 million, mostly in small sums donated by senior citizens, according to the New York Times. But while the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust and the Fisher House Foundation spend 96 and 91 percent, respectively, on vets, the comparable number for Wounded Warrior is just 60 percent, according to CBS, citing research by the Charity Navigator watchdog group. Meanwhile, Wounded Warrior has increased its spending on fund-raising efforts an average of 66 percent in recent years, with $34 million devoted to revenue-generation in 2014, the Times said. Wounded Warrior’s spending on meetings and events also skyrocketed from $1.7 million in 2010 to more than $26 million in 2014, CBS reported. One glaring example is the four-day, 2014 “all hands” corporate retreat it held at the sprawling Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs which CBS said cost about $3 million. Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi in 2013.Photo: WireImage The event featured CEO Steven Nardizzi — who was paid $473,000 that year — rappelling off a 10-story bell tower to cheers from about 500 subordinates. “He’s come in on a Segway, he’s come in on a horse,” a former worker said of other events. Nardizzi, a lawyer who’s never served in the military, took over Wounded Warrior from founder John Melia, an ex-Marine who was injured in a 1992 helicopter crash. Nardizzi defended his financial strategy to the Times, saying it had fueled the group’s growth and allowed it to provide services to an estimated 80,000 vets. “I look at companies like Starbucks — that’s the model,” he said. “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.” In a statement Wednesday, Wounded Warrior also called itself “a leader in non-profit transparency and the public reporting of the organization’s independent financial audits.” “We are an open book. We owe that to those who support us and to those we serve — wounded warriors,” spokesman Paul Loisel added.