Wounded Warrior Project Pledges $160 Million to Battle PTSD

A soldier sports the Wounded Warrior Project logo as he prepares to ruck in the Seattle Rock N' Roll Marathon June 22, 2013. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin)
A soldier sports the Wounded Warrior Project logo as he prepares to ruck in the Seattle Rock N' Roll Marathon June 22, 2013. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin)

The Wounded Warrior Project pledged Tuesday to raise $160 million over the next five years that would be funneled to four institutions for two-and-three week courses of intensive treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

The fundraising was aimed at veterans who "have the courage -- yes, the courage -- when they return home to seek help," retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, chief executive officer of WWP, said in an announcement aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Manhattan's West Side. "When they return home, they've earned our support, and that's really what today is all about."

According to plans, WWP's Warrior Care Network would distribute $65 million to the "Home Base" program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; $45 million to the "Road Home" program at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago: $25 million to veterans programs at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta; and $20 million to "Operation Mend" at UCLA Health in Los Angeles.

The total adds up to $155 million. Rob Louis, a WWP spokesman, said an additional $5 million would go to pilot projects at Home Base in Boston and to other projects at "Road Home" in Chicago for a projected total of $160 million.

Louis said the Blue Angels Foundation had already committed $5 million to the fundraising plan, and the bulk of the $160 million was expected to come from continuing donations to WWP over the next five years.

"For the most part, it's the American people" who will be contributing, he said.

"We're grateful to be able to help warriors access world-class mental health treatment ... [and] we're humbled by the support of the nation that allows us to commit to this care," Linnington, the former head of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, said in a statement before the intrepid ceremony.

WWP, which maintains that as many as one in three veterans suffer from some form of post- traumatic stress disorder, has invested about $100 million in mental health treatment over the previous three years. The projected $160 million would allow for the expansion of services, said retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Richardson, WWP's vice president for Independent Services and Mental Health.

Veterans "pay not a penny for this treatment," said Richardson, the former director of the disability evaluation system for Army Medicine.

He said about 1,000 veterans had gone through the Wounded Care Network-sponsored program of two to three weeks of intensive care with 70 hours of individualized programs, and another 1,100 were expected to receive treatment from the $160 million over the next five years.

WWP's programs, which became well known through TV ads, had average completion rates of 90 percent, compared to 30-50 percent completion rates in other programs, Richardson said.

On the Intrepid, Army veteran Mike Geiger, who guarded "high-value" prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and at camps in Iraq as a military policeman, described outbursts of anger that he couldn't control or explain before going through WWP's intensive treatment in Boston.

"I didn't know what was going on," Geiger said.

It reached the point, he said, where his wife told him, "If I'd known you were going to be this way, I wouldn't have married you."

In recovery, he came to accept that "it's okay to fall down," Geiger said, and with resilience training "we get back up."

"So I'm not perfect, I have a long way to go," Geiger said. "I learned how to fight in the Army. I'm just finding a different way to fight."

Wounded Warrior Project itself is in a form of recovery from a loss of donor confidence following a series of scandals in 2016 involving expenditures and whistleblower complaints of a toxic work environment in the program. Two top executives at WWP were fired.

The watchdog group Charity Navigator initially placed WWP on its "watch list," but Charity Navigator eventually removed WWP from the list and gave it a three-star rating on a scale of four, following independent accounting investigations that questioned the allegations of lavish expenditures.

Last April, Linnington said that donations to WWP dropped by $91 million in fiscal year 2017 in the aftermath of the allegations. But he projected growth for 2018.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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