Charles Battaglia is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the Wounded Warrior Project Board of Directors from 2006 to 2015. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Recently, the Wounded Warrior Project has been the subject of some critical media reports focused primarily on whether the organization's leadership was properly spending the millions donated by hardworking Americans each year on the wounded veterans who so desperately needed WWP's help.
The reports were alarming, and while in the end many of the allegations were proven to be untrue, the concern they sparked left many donors confused and unsure about whether to continue their support. That is incredibly frightening, because the people that will be hurt the most are the ones most in need of our support.
I served on the Wounded Warrior Project's Board of Directors for nine years, and during that time I made it a point to connect with many wounded young men and women to ask them whether WWP was being helpful. Their constant refrains that "WWP saved my marriage," "WWP saved my job," or most pointedly, "WWP saved my life" convinced me of how incredibly important the life-changing programs run by the organization and the money that funded them were.
The funds came in donations big and small, but they have always been critical to healing and empowering those who so bravely protected our country, and suffered bodily and often emotional harm in return. The needs of our veterans are greater than ever, and it is necessary that as a nation we continue to support WWP. Yes, this is a time of transition for WWP but, if our decisions are guided by misperceptions, it's possible that our wounded warriors will suffer the most severe consequences.
While recent criticism raised in media reports of WWP, the nonprofit organization that was founded in the years following 9/11, may make for compelling television, these misperceptions do nothing but belittle the great work of WWP serving many thousands of veterans over the past 13 years.
WWP currently provides more than 20 free, direct programs and services to warriors, their caregivers and their families. Participation by WWP's registered warriors and family members across WWP's many programs increased from approximately 1,850 in 2010 to more than 144,000 in 2015.
In 2015, WWP revised its investment strategy to focus on multi-year investments, which have totaled more than $101 million in the past year, to support partners who are striving to solve the most pressing issues facing our country's wounded veterans. These efforts have the potential to redefine what it means to be a veteran service organization.
WWP's current Board of Directors recently issued a lengthy statement in an effort to clear up the misconceptions reported in the media. For instance, while the widely cited report from the charity rater Charity Navigator claimed that only 60 percent of WWP's funds go to programs, few are aware that Charity Navigator previously awarded WWP a 96 percent rating for accountability and transparency.
WWP's financial statements are independently audited and have certified that WWP devotes approximately 80.6 percent of all donations directly to veteran programs. This difference in calculations is due to Charity Navigator's disregard for a widely established and broadly accepted accounting principle on tax reporting, referred to as joint cost allocation, which is used by a number of prominent charities and is subject to review by independent auditors.
Further, in a 2013 note to donors, Charity Navigator urged that donors should not focus on a charity's overhead costs, but instead should focus on performance. WWP has done just that and more.
According to WWP's most recent federal tax filing, which is independently audited, approximately 94 percent of the $26 million WWP spent on conferences and events between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014, was associated with programs for wounded warriors and their caretakers and families. With this in mind, there is no doubt that WWP is delivering on its stated mission to honor and empower wounded veterans.
WWP depends on its donors, partners and sponsors to support the critical programs and services offered to veterans, their caregivers and their families. The success of these and future offerings is in jeopardy if we as a nation are unable to see past the distraction of recent weeks and settle our focus on those in need of our support: our wounded warriors.
Not only do individuals rely on WWP for care and aid, but WWP also supports small veteran service providers through necessary funding and grants. WWP helps fund, for instance, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury research and treatment projects alongside four major medical centers, including Massachusetts General Hospital. These are critical initiatives that need the full support and backing of generous donors, or they may struggle to exist in coming years and veterans will be left with one fewer option for rehabilitation services.
There is the adage that one's perception is one's reality. There is also the adage that one is permitted to have his own views, but not his own facts. WWP may recover its funding support over time, but it will be the wounded veterans it is serving with excellent programs who will suffer in the interim.
I urge you to look past the misperceptions raised in recent weeks, and see WWP for what it is: a dutiful organization that has already changed the lives of so many veterans. It now needs your help to continue this brave and honorable mission.
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