Wounded Veterans: Charity or Change?

On March 10, Steve Nardizzi was fired as CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, an $800 million fundraising enterprise which bills itself as a charity in service to veterans. On March 13, the Associated Press wrote about “lavish spending–the group’s annual staff meeting in 2014 cost $970,000, prompting complaints from employees, veterans, and charity watchdogs about profiteering off veterans.”

As a combat veteran myself and the son of a wounded warrior who was awarded a Purple Heart, I find this personally offensive. But the real story is the transformation of charities into financial juggernauts which often rival major corporations. The clothing you donate? It goes into the multi-billion dollar international used clothing trade. The Salvation Army maintains a network of mansions in Southern California in which its executives live. Steve Nardizzi of Wounded Warrior received annual compensation of $473,015.

The highly visible charity approach of Wounded Warrior also serves to divert attention from the ongoing abuse and trauma suffered by our veterans.

As of 2013, retroactive benefits had been paid to the families of nearly 19,500 veterans who died waiting for treatment by the Veterans Administration. Just under 600,000 claims for disability compensation have been designated as backlogged. There are currently a quarter million veterans appealing decisions to deny or limit their disability claims, a 50 per cent increase since Obama took office. The Board of Veterans Appeals expects the number of pending cases to double over the next four years. A veteran who takes such an appeal through all available administrative steps faces an average wait of 1,598 days. Do the makers of drones ever have to wait for their payments? Are their invoices ever returned as “denied,” as are countless veteran applications for disability?

A Pentagon advisory panel recently proposed eliminating the pensions of all military personnel. Twenty-two veterans take their lives every day. The suicide rate for young male and female veterans is growing.

On any given night, there are at least 420,000 veterans in the United States who are homeless. The rate of foreclosure is skyrocketing in the 163 Zip codes located closest to military bases.

None of these problems can be solved by charity. They could be solved if everyone donating to the likes of Wounded Warrior were mobilized into a political force to make it happen.

Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: rockrap@aol.com.