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Wounded Warrior Project comes under scrutiny for spending on staff 

click to enlarge WWP's downtown digs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • WWP's downtown digs.

As news broke last week about Wounded Warrior Project's lavish spending, local organizations that help soldiers and veterans moved to distance themselves from the mega-sized nonprofit.

Media reports pointed out that WWP, which raked in $312 million in the fiscal year ending in September 2014, shelled out $7.4 million on staff travel that year and has spent freely on "team building" meetings for employees, including one held at the five-star Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs.

Meantime, local agencies that work with military members and veterans reported few, if any, dealings with Wounded Warriors Project, other than referrals for services.

Neither The Home Front Cares nor Peak Military Care Network, both based in Colorado Springs, has any connection with WWP.

"They refer clients to us, but we have no direct relationship with them," says George Hayward, communications director for The Home Front Cares. The organization had a budget of about $1 million last fiscal year ending April 15, which came from donations, grants and corporate gifts.

The agency, formed in 2003 amid the Iraq War, provided direct emergency grants to 375 soldiers and airmen and their families in 2015 for rent, utilities, food and other life essentials, and also provided referrals for 1,000 others needing financial or emotional support, Hayward says.

"We keep a roof over their heads right now, so they can focus on getting a job or keeping their life together," Hayward says. "We can call [Colorado Springs] Utilities and say, 'Hey, we're paying the bill tomorrow; please turn the power back on.'"

The Home Front Cares, which has four full-time employees and three part-timers, works with the Veterans Administration and AspenPointe mental health care provider, Hayward adds. Based in an austere office equipped with donated furniture at 1120 N. Circle Drive, the agency paid its executive director $75,514 last fiscal year, which includes benefits. Administrative expenses represented about 12 percent of spending, which included $2,248 for travel.

Similarly, Kate Hatten, president and CEO of Peak Military Care Network, reports that "WWP is not a PMCN partner agency." PMCN has 11/2 employees, she says, and reported $314,275 in revenue from donations and grants during calendar year 2014, the most recent data available.

PMCN, formerly the National Homeland Defense Foundation, is located in a small office off Lake Avenue. It spent nothing on travel in 2014, and 17 percent of its total spending of $454,821 went toward administration.

AspenPointe, the region's largest mental health provider, reports, "We do not have any involvement with Wounded Warrior Project in the past or today," according to spokesman J.P. Arnold.

The same is true of El Paso County's Veterans Services interaction with WWP. "We guess that they might have referred somebody to the County Veterans Office, but we have had no direct contact with that organization," county spokesman Dave Rose says in an email.

Uniformed Services for Justice and Advocacy (USJAG), based in Colorado Springs, is so small it doesn't have a budget yet. Co-founders Robert Alvarez and Andrew Pogany have used their own money to help soldiers threatened with less-than-honorable discharges for infractions related to their wartime injuries.

"Andrew has been driving a shuttle bus to feed his kids," Alvarez says, adding USJAG has no link with WWP.

In contrast, WWP reportedly employs 10 to 12 people in its Colorado Springs office alone, which occupies half of the second floor at the remodeled 1 S. Nevada Ave. building downtown. Visitors must push a button to be admitted through locked glass doors.

CEO Steven Nardizzi, based in WWP's headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida, was paid $496,415 for the fiscal year ending in September 2014, including benefits, while five others received more than $250,000 each that year, and another seven averaged $180,000 each.

Last fiscal year, the agency reported spending a total of $248 million, of which $30.1 million was salaries, $778,243 was for pension accruals and $4.8 million was for "other employee benefits."

WWP also reported a fundraising expense of $43.4 million, and one contractor, Constellations Group Ltd of New York, was "very instrumental in introducing Wounded Warrior Project to multiple celebrities and major donor prospects."

Hayward, for one, hopes that publicity surrounding WWP's spending doesn't rub off on his organization. "We've heard anecdotally from donors who stopped giving or don't give over their concerns about their [WWP's] overhead," he says.

While Hatten didn't answer that question directly, she notes, "We have found the Pikes Peak region to be very supportive of our military veteran community."

WWP's spokesman didn't respond to an email seeking comment about whether WWP is concerned that news reports might impact fundraising. But WWP spokesman Rob Louis previously told the Independent the news reports were "false" and that the agency provides services to more than 83,000 wounded veterans.

WWP has hosted fundraising foot races in the region and has dedicated volunteers, including Phyllis Chun of Colorado Springs, who posted this message on starspangledboomerang.com: "WWP raises public awareness of service members needs, helps the service members directly and supports members helping each other."

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