Senator questions Wounded Warrior Project spending

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter , News4Jax.com Staff
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sen. Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee responded to the Wounded Warrior Project after the committee began investigating the Jacksonville-based veterans charity to see how donations are being spent.

The letter written by Grassley was sent Monday, just one month after WWP turned over financial documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review. 

The committee wanted to look into the charity's finances after News4Jax I-TEAM and national media investigations revealed reports of lavish spending on employees and not post 9/11 veterans.

In a letter obtained by the I-TEAM, Grassley said WWP claimed it was spending 80 percent of its money on veterans services. The Republican Iowa senator's investigation found that 33 percent that was claimed to be spent on veterans programs was actually free advertising and media, which does not include direct mailers that WWP sends out and qualifies as a program to veterans. 

"It includes free media as a program service to veterans. It is not clear whether the donated media was only outreach to veterans to help them access programs or whether it was for fundraising purposes," Grassley said in the letter to WWP Board Chairman Anthony Odierno.

The committee found that with both combined, less than 66 percent of all donations may be going to wounded veterans, which is in line with estimations by charity-watch groups. 

Grassley's investigation looked at the charity's financial records from 2013 and 2014. In 2014, the committee found most WWP alumni and wounded warrior events were sporting events. Only 17 percent of events were related to physical health and wellness of veterans.

"It appears the vast majority of the 94 percent of program services provided to veterans consisted of tickets to sporting events," Grassley said in the letter.

Grassley questioned WWP's claim that it spends 80.6 percent on veteran programming based on the committee's findings.

"Of the $242 million WWP spent on program expenses in FY 2014, it appears that approximately $150 million of it was not actually spent on veterans by WWP and a large portion of it was in-kind donations," Grassley said in the letter. 

In addition, the committee said the charity counted $37 million to a trust fund to help warriors in the future -- as a program expensive.

But the committee red-flagged that saying the only true expense there was $130,000 for someone to manage the trust. 

In the letter, Grassley sent a new list of questions and demands of WWP saying, "WWP has tremendous responsibility to operate efficiently and to make the most out of the money it receives from the donating public."

Grassley has been working for years to improve the oversight of nonprofit groups, as part of his work on the Senate Finance Committee.

The I-TEAM has reached out to WWP for comment, but have not yet received a response.

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