Local vets, charities call foul on Wounded Warrior Project

CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Local veterans are enraged after a CBS News investigation exposed the Wounded Warrior Project for poor use of donated funds.

The Wounded Warrior Project raised about $300 million in 2014, according to the CBS News investigation. The charity’s forms show that spending on meetings and conferences increased to $26 million from just $1.7 million in 2014.

Ralph Santillo, founder of Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation in Cape Coral, said he is angered at the Wounded Warrior Project’s broken promise.

“It pisses me off that money goes out to guys that are living a lavish lifestyle and not take care of the veterans that they say and promise they are taking,” he said. “They look great on TV, but we started wondering how much really goes to the veterans.”

More than 40 former Wounded Warrior Project employees have come forward saying the charity blows millions of dollars on lavish dinners, extravagant hotels and retreats. One of those former employees, Erick Millette said the Wounded Warrior Project is profiting off veterans who live with injuries.

“You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties,” Millette, also a wounded veteran, said.

Some Southwest Florida veterans insist that fundraising on the behalf of veterans should stay local.

“If they are homeless, if they are hungry, if they are tired, if they need a job, if they need to further their education we handle all of that,” Santillo said.

Services are offered to veterans for free by the Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, which is also located in Cape Coral. Local non-profit organizations said they have better records using donations for needy veterans than the reported Wounded Warrior Project.

“We have nine board of directors and nobody is paid in our organization and we have no paid staff,” David Souders of the Wounded Warrior Anglers said.

The CBS News report has caused some people to rethink their support of the Wounded Warriors Project. At the Nauti Parrot in North Fort Myers, employees are auctioning off a guitar signed by Fleetwood Mac. They had intended to donate proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project.

“But because of the whole scandal that is going on we are kind of second guessing where we want the money to go,” said Tyler Geib of the Nauti Parrot.

After the investigation, presidential candidate Donald Trump backpedeled on plans to raise money for the troubled organization. Trump, who announced he will not participate in Thursday’s Republican debate, said his rally in Des Moines, Iowa will benefit veteran organizations. He did not provide specifics into which organizations he has chosen.

Reporter:Corey Lazar
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