- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Wounded Warrior Project is demanding CBS News apologize and retract a report accusing the charity of lavishly spending donor money on itself.

CBS News spoke to more than 40 former Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) employees who accused the charity of needlessly spending millions of dollars in donations on lavish conferences and parties.

“We are outraged to see that CBS chose to run the story despite our ongoing efforts to set the record straight,” WWP said in an open letter posted Wednesday on Facebook. “We can only deduce that CBS willfully set aside the information WWP provided in favor of the false statements made by a handful of former, disgruntled employees.”

The CBS News report said that in 2014 alone, WWP received more than $300 million in donations and spent only 60 percent of that on vets. It also claimed, based on the charity’s tax forms, that spending on conferences and meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014 — reportedly the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery, their top program.

WWP said the statements are false.

“Based on our most recent independently audited financial statements, 80.6% of total expenditures went to provide programs and services for wounded service members, their caregivers, and families,” the group’s statement said, adding that “CBS falsely reported our conference and meeting expenses.”

“94% of the figure CBS reported as conference and meetings for staff was actually a program expense for warriors and their families to participate in services such as mental health programming,” it continued.

Former employees told CBS News that spending began to skyrocket ever since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009, pointing to a 2014 four-day conference at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs, which CBS News said cost about $3 million.

One ex-employee said the charity’s spending on resorts and alcohol is “what the military calls fraud waste and abuse.”

WWP called the claims “absurd and patently false.”

“The annual training conference costs an average of $1,500 per person, which includes all expenses for travel, meals, accommodations, and materials for four days. During WWP’s annual training session, WWP conducts strategic planning and program development to ensure we are operating effectively as an organization. No alcohol is purchased by the organization at the training,” their statement said.

Lastly, WWP took issue with a quote by Army Staff Sgt. Erick Millette, who recently quit as a public speaker with WWP. He told CBS News that the charity does a poor job of handling individual cases and following up with vets.

” ‘We don’t call warriors. Warriors call us,’ ” he recalled his superiors telling him.

“TRUTH: Warriors and caregivers are continuously contacted by WWP via multiple channels including in-person, weekly emails, and regular phone calls,” WWP wrote in response. “In addition to these regular communications, in 2015, WWP staff members conducted 76,942 documented, outbound wellness checks and outreach calls to warriors and caregivers.”

“We demand that CBS immediately correct the record, issue a retraction of the false statements, and issue an apology to the public and the tens of thousands of wounded veterans and their families who have been offended by these false statements. We expect your prompt attention to this urgent matter,” the statement concluded.

WWP’s post, addressed to Al Ortiz, CBS’ executive director of Standards and Practices, was shared more than 4,700 times by Thursday afternoon.

• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at jchasmar@washingtontimes.com.

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