profiting on suffering

Wounded Warriors money bags is a composite image created for using the Wounded Warrior’s logo on a stock image of money bags (© Steveheap) licensed by and paid for by generous readers (click here to donate).

People shower lots of attention on military veterans today.

Perhaps it’s because we now have an all-volunteer military. Maybe it’s because with the proliferation of media now, the average American knows more about our troops engaged in military activity all over the world. Perhaps it’s the new patriotism since 9/11. Whatever the reason, people in our country shower a lot of attention on helping veterans of the military service.

As you might suspect, with many organizations seeking to help these veterans, you might find some rotten apples with phony organizations. Some groups say that they are helping veterans, when it’s only a ruse to raise money, with much of it going to their own pockets.

One of the biggest of these groups raising money for veterans is the Wounded Warrior Project, based out of Jacksonville, Fla. The Project has veered away from what its founder, John Melia, first envisioned. As reported in several media, including a front-page lead article in The New York Times recently, it now spends millions on lavish dinners, first class travel, hotel and meals, through aggressive fund raising, and causing wonder if it is way off its mission of helping veterans.

The Times reported that 40 percent of its donations in 2014 went to overhead, as it focuses less on veterans and more on money.

You may have been the target of the Wounded Warrior Project. Think back, in the last few months, did you get a mailing that told you on the envelope (and you could see through a window) “Yes, That’s a REAL STAMP” inside! One recent letter asked “What links it to someone who was severely burned in Afghanistan?” The letter inside had a place for the recipient to check off to send $10, $15, $25, $35 or a higher amount to the project. The letter read that the sender attached the 49 cent stamp “….because wounded service members urgently need your response to the 2016 (local city) WWP Fund Drive now.”

The letter also told of the “agony beyond words” that one soldier suffered in Afghanistan from “burns over 70 percent of his body….and more than 70 painful surgeries” upon his return from Afghanistan. (Note the emotional tone.)

The Wounded Warrior Project was preying upon you to pull money out of your pocket. It works time over time so that the Project now gets in more than $375 million a year in contributions. This comes largely though mail, and mostly from people over age 65.

But in 2014, over 40 percent, or $124 million, went for overhead. (Its chief executive was paid $475,000 in compensation in 2014.) A similar veteran’s group spent only 8 percent on overhead. What’s up?

Today’s Wounded Warrior Project is far different from what its founder, John Melia, envisioned when he started raising money to distribute backpacks with socks, CD players, toothpaste and other items to veterans in military hospitals. Media, injured in a helicopter crash in 1992 in Somalia, remembered the little attention he received in military hospitals when recuperating.

Soon the Wounded Warrior Project was growing, though leaders of the project were not in sync with Mr. Melia’s original idea. Eventually, he was ousted from the organization he founded.

While the Wounded Warrior Project helps many, its manner raises questions of just how effective the dollars you contribute are. Its high overhead makes people wonder.

One suggestion: why give to charities who solicit funds for veterans via phone or mail, when many local worthwhile groups work for veterans?

Our suggestion: give locally to whom you know.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared at Image: Wounded Warriors money bags is a composite image created for using the Wounded Warrior’s logo on a photo of money bags (© Steveheap) licensed by and paid for by generous readers (click here to donate).
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,