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Wounded Warrior Project charity wastes millions of dollars, CBS News probe finds

| Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

The Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonprofit organization that supports service members wounded in the line of duty, has been accused of blowing millions of dollars in donated money on spoils for its staff, according to a new two-part CBS News investigation.

The CBS investigation was reportedly inspired by Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that promotes fiscal transparency among charities. Its scrutiny of public records found that WWP spent 60 percent of its donations on veterans, the remainder of which the CBS News team set out to account for.

“According to the charity's tax forms, spending on conferences and meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014,” the report reads. “That's about the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery — its top program.”

More than 40 current and former employees of the prominent veterans charity told CBS about lavish parties, $2,500 bar tabs and expensive resort trips for employees.

On Wednesday, the WWP issued a statement on its website calling the CBS story a “false news report.” The organization called itself an “open book” and “a leader in nonprofit transparency.”

It also faulted CBS for allegedly not contacting WWP's top auditor to check the numbers prior to broadcasting the story. The auditor, Richard M. Jones, “stands by our financial statements, our reporting methods, our public filings, and our independent audits,” the statement reads.

Since its inception in 2003 as a basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded war veterans, the charity has evolved into a fundraising giant, taking in more than $372 million in 2015 alone — largely through small donations from people older than 65.

But in its swift rise, it also has embraced aggressive styles of fundraising, marketing and personnel management that have caused many current and former employees to question whether it has drifted from its original mission.

It has spent millions a year on travel, dinners, hotels and conferences that often seemed more lavish than appropriate, more than four dozen current and former employees said in interviews.

Former workers recounted booking business-class seats and regularly jetting across the country for minor meetings, or staying in $500-a-night hotel rooms.

“People could spend money on the most ridiculous thing, and no one batted an eye,” said Connie Chapman, who was in charge of the charity's Seattle office for two years. “I would fly to New York for less than a day to report to my supervisor.”

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Erick Millette came home from Iraq in 2006 with a Bronze star and a Purple Heart — along with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Wounded Warrior Project enrolled him in its program Warriors Speak, which “provides important life skills that help warriors succeed.” In 2013, the charity hired him as a public speaker.

But Millette quit last year. He told CBS News correspondent Chip Reid that Warriors Speak is less like a program to help veterans and more like a fundraising vehicle.

“They will tell you it's not. But it is,” Millette said. “I began to see how an organization that rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year is not helping my brothers and my sisters. Or at least not all of them.”

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