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OPINION

Wounded Warrior flap is as heartbreaking as stolen valor

By JIM MITCHELL | The Dallas Morning News | Published: March 12, 2016

I’ve never served in the military. My father, uncle, cousin and grandfather served. So did various members of my wife’s family.

You don’t need a military record to be outraged by the accusations of financial misdeeds at the Wounded Warrior Project. The more I learn about the Wounded Warrior Project controversy, the madder I get. Badly injured servicemen and women seem to have been used as fundraising props.

The charity’s board of directors this week fired chief executive officer Steven Nardizzi and chief operating officer Al Giordano after an independent review found serious problems with internal policies, procedures and controls. These were the guys on whose watch the project seemed to lose its bearings. They took the fall.

However, the investigation findings make it sound as though the problems were traceable to lax accounting. Deeper allegations from CBS and The New York Times indicate that money was wasted on lavish parties (and other things) to bolster the lifestyles of top charity leaders. That’s not an accounting mishap; that’s a cultural mindset.

In their news release, WWP says “certain allegations raised in media reports were inaccurate” and contends that a substantial portion of the donations support participation of warriors and their families in its 20 free, direct programs and services. What the release seems to lack is regret and the appeal to humanity that is the core of the group’s fundraising.

To me, the betrayed trust of donors is every bit as bad as stolen valor, people who fraudulently claim heroic military accomplishments. Most of us give to charities because we have a heart and want to do our bit to help, no matter how large or small. And what we want to know is that we’re making a difference and not supporting individual lifestyles or marketing juggernauts.

I don’t know whether WWP has adequately cleaned house or effectively changed the culture that brought it under scrutiny. But as an outsider looking at this controversy, I am reminded that mega-dollar fundraisers need to constantly remind everyone in their organization that they aren’t the reason the organization exists. A little humility and renewed commitment to purpose goes a long way.

©2016 The Dallas Morning News
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