JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A wounded combat veteran and one of seven former employees of the Wounded Warrior Project who helped blow the whistle on the charity's spending practices to the I-TEAM four months ago says the Senate Judiciary Committee's report released late Monday is very gratifying.
The four-page letter from the Senate committee to WWP interim CEO and board chairman Anthony Odierno makes it clear that investigators see through everything, and they want more answers.
Whistleblower Erick Millette has detailed how money Wounded Warrior Project spent money on itself and not veterans, pointing to lavish employee retreats like one at a five-star resort in Colorado Springs.
"It really invalidates Wounded Warrior Project's claims that we're disgruntled employees, because we're not. That we have an ax to grind. We don't. We were just upset about the way money was spent, and we're passionate about those that have served our country," Millette said.
The Senate committee found Wounded Warrior Project's claim it spend 80 percent of its funds on veteran services was inflated. Investigators found that 33 percent of that amount was free advertising and media.
That doesn't include direct mailers sent to donors asking for money, which the charity considers educational materials, and therefore part of its service to veterans. If that amount was considered advertising and media, they believe the money spent on veterans would drop to below 66 percent.
They also found that in 2014, 71 percent of all program expenses went to sporting events. The next closest program expense was physical health and wellness, which only received 17 percent of the overall budget.
Millette said the organization does great work, and his criticism was never about the program; it was an attack on the way the program wastes its donor's money.
"It's not that the programs and services, the 20 that they offer, aren't doing anything positive, because they are," he said. "It's the tens of millions of dollars that are being wasted, and how the public is being lied to, and now they're answering for that on a Senate level, on the judiciary level," Millette said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- who is not on the Judiciary Committee -- told the I-TEAM he supports the inquiry.
"Anyone who is out there claiming to be helping wounded veterans but then is in fact taking that money and spending it on themselves -- I think they deserve not to just be examined but quite frankly there should be consequences for that, so I support Sen. Grassley's inquiry and we'll see where it leads."
Millette said the veteran community is talking about taking its own action.
"We as veterans, as their constituents, are not powerless in this," Millette said. "We can file suit against the Wounded Warrior Project, and I've heard many veterans who have been wronged by the Wounded Warrior Project talk about filing a class-action lawsuit."
The WWP's former leadership, CEO Steven Nardizzi and chief operating officer Al Giordano, were fired earlier this year, weeks after the I-TEAM and national news organizations reported on the charity's spending practices. The pair have refused more than a dozen requests by the I-TEAM for interviews, both before and after they were fired.
The organization's public relations firm did issue a statement Tuesday about the Senate Judiciary Committee's findings:
"We continue to maintain a productive dialog with Sen. Grassley's office and look forward to answering his request for a more detailed explanation of how our programs and services provide essential support to wounded warriors," public relations specialist Rob Louis said.