I-TEAM: Executives laid off, reassigned at Wounded Warrior Project

More layoffs expected this week at Jacksonville-based veterans charity

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A day after the I-TEAM learned layoffs were underway at the Wounded Warrior Project, the Jacksonville-based veterans charity confirmed that nearly 50 percent of the nonprofit’s executive staff had been reduced.

The charity is also consolidating operations to reduce administrative costs and streamlining its workforce to focus on areas identified as greatest in need.

The I-TEAM's sources said more layoffs of staff will likely follow later this week. Those exact numbers have not been released, but we’re told it could be extensive.

WWP said that while it is reducing its total workforce, it will add staff in areas of mental health, long-term in-home support, warrior engagement, and other roles essential to its mission.

READ: Wounded Warrior Project changes announced

Several executive vice presidents were laid off or reassigned as some executive positions were eliminated. No employees were fired, according to Wounded Warrior, rather positions were eliminated in the charity's restructuring process.

The layoffs follow a two-month evaluation by new Chief Executive Officer Mike Linnington of the nonprofit’s efficiency and effectiveness. He warned layoffs were likely as part of a restructuring initiative when he spoke to the I-TEAM earlier this month.

Linnington released a statement to the I-TEAM on Tuesday:

Over the last several months, we’ve been carefully evaluating our operations in order to deliver the greatest impact possible for the wounded warriors and families we serve. We have taken a hard look at our organization, at our structure, and our staffing model. We have undergone difficult, but necessary, scrutiny and self-evaluation. As a result, we are undergoing reorganization and recently made significant changes at the executive level. WWP expresses our sincere thanks for the contributions of these passionate teammates who have worked tirelessly to support the needs of this generation of wounded veterans. As we continue to evolve to meet the needs of our wounded warriors, their families, and caregivers we will keep those who we serve, our supporters, and the public well informed."

Sources said Jeremy Chwat, the chief strategy officer, was let go this week. His biography says he was a founding member of the charity; the non-profit claims there were 27 original founders, although John Melia says he and his family founded the organization in 2004. 

According to the organization's most recent tax filings, Chwat's compensation was higher than $300,000 annually in salary and benefits. His departure means four out of five chief officers are now gone in the wake of the charity's spending scandal.

Former Chief Executive Officer Steven Nardizzi and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano were terminated by the charity’s board of directors following an independent review of the nonprofit’s financials. Adam Silva, who served as chief programs officer, was allowed to resign.

Chief Financial Officer Ron Burgess remains.

Interim Chief Operating Officer Charlie Fletcher's role at Wounded Warrior Project will wrap up this fall. The position of Chief Operating Officer has been eliminated moving forward.

In addition, the human relations executive vice president, who made more than $200,000 in salary and benefits, was also let go. Sources said two other executive vice president positions were eliminated, including international programs and board relations executive vice president and warrior relations executive vice president.

Sources said there could be more executive positions affected or others reassigned.

As evidence of further reorganization, the I-TEAM's sources said all of the executive vice presidents that remain will serve under new titles of vice president, and it’s possible a reduction in pay could also follow, although that has not been decided. As the I-TEAM has previously reported, 2015 tax documents show all of the executive vice presidents were previously paid six figures, ranging from $160,000 to $300,000.

MORE: Complete Wounded Warrior Project investigation

A strategic review and reorganization of WWP continues, officials said, however as a first step, Linnington has outlined the following areas of focus:

 

  • Redouble efforts to provide the most critical support services to wounded warriors and their families: Increase investments in mental health care for those with the signature wounds of these conflicts: Post traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
    -- Long-term support
    -- Community engagement activities to connect warriors with one another
    -- Lifelong independence and financial resilience
  • Engage with national and local community organizations: Increase synergy in relationships and partnerships with non-profit organizations, businesses, and government entities that serve warriors and their families.
  • Improve accountability, transparency, trust: Continued focus on organizational efficiency and effectiveness.
    -- Clear, consistent reporting
    -- Accountability to America’s warriors, their families, the public, and WWP employees 

The embattled charity has been in the spotlight since January when the I-TEAM and national media exposed questionable spending practices and a culture of intimidation and fear by the nonprofit after whistleblowers came forward.

Seven former employees all relayed stories to the I-TEAM of wasteful spending at employee training events and unnecessary office parties. That spending included a training event at the Broadmoor in Colorado, which cost $970,000.

Along with spending practices, former employees also questioned the group's practice of printing expensive annual yearbooks for its staff that cost more than $20,000 a year.

The charity has publicly denied any fiscal wrongdoing but agreed the optics may have left donors with questions about the Wounded Warrior Project’s management decisions.

The I-TEAM's sources said more layoffs of staff will likely follow later this week. Those exact numbers are not being released, but we’re told it could be extensive.

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