Wounded Warrior Project
|Motto||The greatest casualty is being forgotten.|
|Type||501(C)(3) Corporation #20-2370934|
|Purpose||To raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of severely injured service members; to help severely injured service members aid and assist each other; to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of any service member, who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after September 11, 2001 and their families.|
|Executive Director||Steven Nardizzi|
Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, service and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following the events of September 11, 2001 (meaning other wounded warriors, such as Vietnam veterans, are not eligible). It operates as a nonprofit 501(C)(3) organization with a mission to "honor and empower Wounded Warriors" of the United States Armed Forces, as well as provide services and programs for the family members of its registered "alumni," as its registered veterans are called.
WWP's vision is to "foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history" as it works to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of severely injured servicemembers (only those that deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan), help severely injured service members aid and assist each other and provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.
As of August 1, 2013, WWP serves 35,648 registered alumni and 4,181 registered members, defined as family or caregivers of a registered alumni. In 2012, WWP spent $114,817,090 on programs in support of wounded veterans, their families and their caregivers, while contributing "nearly $5 million in grants to other charities, including the American Red Cross and Resounding Joy, a music therapy group in California, and also provided about $880,000 to nearly 100 veterans in the form of college scholarships and stipends for its year-long TRACK Program, which helps veterans transition to college and the workplace." WWP has also provided funding to, and partnered with, Operation Homefront to "extend emergency financial assistance to military servicemembers and veterans who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness or wound, which was not due to their own misconduct, co-incident to their military service on or after September 11, 2001 and their families." "This emergency assistance will be in the form of cash grants paid to service providers to cover servicemembers’ most basic of needs, including food, rent and utilities."
Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2003 in Roanoke, Virginia by John Melia with the assistance of family and friends. Melia had been severely wounded himself in a helicopter crash while serving in Somalia in 1992. This experience gave him a firsthand knowledge of the particular and basic needs of injured military service members.
- "I was a Marine in the early ’90s, and I was injured in a Marine Corps helicopter crash that killed four of my friends and injured 14 of us. So my experience coming home as a wounded vet kind of showed me some of the gaps in service delivery to [wounded] military members. In 2002, I was watching a news story on TV and saw a young Marine being loaded onto a helicopter, and it just brought back a flood of memories for me and I thought, “Boy, I bet that guy’s getting ready to go on the same type of journey that I did for a number of years, struggling to figure out what I was going to do after I was retired from the military.”
Melia had previously worked for other veteran-focused nonprofit organizations, including Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and he felt that the organizations currently operating in support of veterans were not prepared to deal with some of the unique needs and issues that this newest generation of veterans would face, which, from his own experience, was that often servicemembers newly arrived at the military hospitals had little or no personal possessions, comfort items or even clothes. So Melia, along with WWP's other founders, who included Jim Melia (John's brother), John F. Melia (John's father), Al Giordano and Steven Nardizzi, gathered $5,000 from family and friends and put together backpacks containing simple comfort items such as shorts, t-shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries and hygiene items, CD players, CDs and items like playing cards.
They took all of these backpacks to the former Bethesda Naval Hospital (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and distributed them to veterans that had been injured and medically evacuated to those facilities from the theatres of combat. The troops evidently enjoyed them so much that the next day, the founders received a call from a nurse at Walter Reed Army Medical Center asking if they could bring 200 more to the hospital. The WWP Backpacks program continues to remain a central activity of WWP, evidenced by the 16,992 backpacks they had distributed as of August 1, 2013.
United Spinal Association
What would become Wounded Warrior Project initially operated as a subsidiary of the United Spinal Association of New York, which adopted WWP as a program in November 2003. With the financial and staff support of United Spinal Association, the WWP continued to successfully support thousands of newly injured servicemembers through the WWP Backpack Program, which continued to present free backpacks filled with comfort items to servicemembers recovering at military hospitals around the world, including Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
In June 2005, United Spinal's Board of Directors agreed with WWP staff that WWP "should be developed into a stand-alone charity with its own identity and programs," and in September 2005, WWP was granted $2.7 million from United Spinal Association to begin its next phase of existence and to expand its services from providing immediate comfort items to providing longer-term support for returning wounded veterans via compensation, education, health care, insurance, housing, employment, etc.
Incorporation as an Independent Organization
Wounded Warrior Project registered for incorporation on February 23, 2005.
In July 2006, WWP's headquarters were moved from Roanoke to Jacksonville, Florida. WWP Founder John Melia cited a strong local veteran community, access to Jacksonville International Airport, and support from the local business community, specifically the PGA Tour, as the reason for the move. Melia says, "Florida is one of the most veteran-friendly states in the country."
In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Maryland Terrapins, South Carolina Gamecocks, Texas Tech Red Raiders and Utah Utes wore special uniforms designed by Under Armour to promote the Project. NIG In the 2011 season, the South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls and Texas Tech Red Raiders wore special uniforms designed by Under Armour to promote the Project.
WWP currently offers 19 different programs and services to wounded veterans and their families. The programs and services are separated into four separate categories: "Body," "Mind," "Economic Empowerment" and "Engagement."
The Physical Health and Wellness program "provides recreation, adaptive sports programs and overall strategies to help (alumni) remain physically engaged while adjusting to life after injury. Warriors' physical and psychological well-being are optimized through comprehensive recreation and sports programs, physical health promotion strategies, legislative policy change and physical rehabilitation designed to help maximize independence."
Soldier Ride is "a unique four-day cycling opportunity for Wounded Warriors to use cycling and the bonds of service to overcome physical, mental or emotional wounds." As of 2012, the program held events in Miami & Key West, Tampa, Jacksonville, Washington, DC, Chicago, New York, Seattle, North Fork, Phoenix, Nashville, San Antonio, and Landstuhl, Germany. Alumni attending the event are provided proper cycling and protective equipment. When necessary, participants are provided adaptive cycling equipment that allows wounded or injured veterans to participate in the riding activities through the use of recumbent or hand-operated bicycles.
The WWP Backpack program remains as a major program for WWP. The program provides backpacks "filled with essential care and comfort items such as clothing, toiletries, playing cards and more - all designed to make a hospital stay more comfortable. Wounded service members receive backpacks as they arrive at military trauma units across the United States." WWP has continued to distribute the packs, a signature program of WWP for its entire decade of operation, and as of August 1, 2013, it had distributed 16,992 of the backpacks to injured service members. WWP, through a partnership with Under Armour, made it possible for the public to purchase a pre-made WWP pack directly from Under Armour, which is then shipped to WWP to distribute to a wounded service member, with the purchaser receiving "a numbered, limited-edition challenge coin, dog tags, and a WWP Story to learn even more about the program."
To best serve the needs of service members, additional options are also available to WWP as they distribute packs to recipients. The Transitional Care Packs (TCPs) are given to "injured warriors overseas who are evacuated from field hospitals to larger military treatment facilities stateside or abroad." TCPs are a smaller version of the WWP backpack, easier to transport during long medevac flights, and are for "immediate comfort." As of August 1, 2013, WWP had distributed 41,693 TCPs to injured service members.
To support family members visiting their loved ones in military hospitals, WWP introduced the Family Support Tote (FST). The FST was conceived to meet the needs of service member's families, who often faced long stays in hospitals alongside their injured family member. The FST contains comfort items as well as articles such as planners that enable better organization of paperwork and schedules for family members. "This program was conceived based on an unmet need observed by (WWP's) Family Support Team and was developed through the most relevant input available – family members of Wounded Warriors in the hospitals."
The Combat Stress Recovery Program (CSRP) "addresses the mental health and cognitive needs of warriors returning from war. CSRP provides services at key stages during a warrior's readjustment process."  The CSRP is itself made up of multiple programs designed to help WWP alumni cope with Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological stress from operations in a combat environment, often during repeated deployments.
Project Odyssey is a program designed exclusively for combat veterans that uses outdoor, rehabilitative retreats to encourage veterans to nurture a connection with nature, their fellow combat veterans, Project Odyssey staff and trained counselors. Participants can expect to undertake activities such as horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, a high ropes course, fishing, skeet shooting, sled hockey and skiing at retreats held in various locations across the country. There are three separate Project Odyssey opportunities that are available to combat veterans.
Regional Project Odysseys are five-day retreats for wounded veterans from each of WWP's regions to group together alongside fellow veterans from their areas and begin healing. Couple's Project Odysseys are five-day couple's retreats meant to teach couples to rebuild trust and relationships affected by combat experiences. International Project Odysseys are intended for wounded veterans still on active-duty status while recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany. WWP plans to offer this event to Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) throughout Europe as well.
Project Odyssey staff continue to follow up and support alumni who have participated in the program, and veterans are also supported by WWP and other local combat stress resources.
Restore Warriors is a website "with resources and self-help strategies for warriors living with the invisible wounds of war, such as PTSD, combat and operational stress or depression." "The website offers tools and self-help strategies, including videos of other warriors sharing their personal experiences with combat and operational stress-related problems, along with the useful coping strategies they used to overcome these issues."
The TRACK program is the first education center in the nation specifically for wounded veterans. Currently, WWP TRACK facilities are located in Jacksonville, Florida and San Antonio, Texas. The 12-month program gives warriors a jump-start on meeting their educational goals, while also supporting goals around personal health and wellness, mental health and career development. TRACK students enter as a team or cohort, and continue through the program together, offering the ideal environment for students at all ability levels, including those who might not have been successful in traditional academic settings in the past. TRACK students support one another during their journey and leave the program with the skills and supports necessary to continue their education and/or enter the civilian workforce.
The Transition Training Academy (TTA) is a hands-on program that helps wounded veterans explore the information-technology (IT) field as a possible career choice. TTA instruction is a high-touch blended learning model where instructors engage personally with each student with “learn-by-doing” teaching techniques that increase the potential for student success. This is especially beneficial for those warriors who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or PTSD. All TTA courses and class materials are provided free of charge to warriors and their spouse or caregiver. Currently, TTA programs are available at the following locations: Baumholder, Germany; Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, MCS, California; Fort Belvoir, Fairfax, Virginia; Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina; Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Washington; Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas; Naval Medical Center (Balboa), San Diego, California (NMCSD); and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD.
The Warriors to Work (W2W) program helps wounded veterans to find employment by working with both wounded veterans and employers to facilitate job placement. For wounded veterans, Warriors to Work provides career guidance and support services for those interested in transitioning to the civilian workforce. WWP specialists match wounded veterans' skills and experience to the needs of hiring managers. The services are also available for registered family members and caregivers. For employers, WWP facilitates connections with qualified candidates and provides information and education about combat-related injuries (such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury), reasonable accommodations, facilitating a productive onboarding process and developing a long-lasting relationship throughout the life cycle of employment.
The Alumni program provides long-term support and camaraderie for wounded veterans through events, discounted services and an online community. WWP provides a wide range of complimentary programs and events designed to give wounded veterans the ongoing support they need to heal from their experiences. The Alumni program provides long-term support through communication, events and networking. In addition to all WWP programs and services, WWP alumni have access to Alumni Events & Activities throughout the year. These events can include sporting events, educational sessions, personal and professional development summits and recreational activities. WWP also provides alumni the opportunity to support activities and events for newly injured service members.
The Family Support program exists to serve family members who may find themselves in a new role as full-time supporters or caregivers for a service member who is wounded, ill or injured, which can place tremendous stress on the family. These individuals are an integral part of a wounded veteran's successful recovery. WWP's Family Support staff reaches out to family members and caregivers of warriors living with physical and/or mental health conditions to ensure they receive the full range of support and benefits of the programs available.
WWP offers Benefits Assistance to help wounded veterans make the most of their benefits and successfully transition to life after injury. Trained specialists provide alumni with the tools they need to become financially secure. The WWP Benefits Service team ensures warriors and their families have information and access to government benefits, in addition to the full range of WWP programs and community resources necessary for successful transition to life after injury. WWP staff can provide information on how to access services through the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and will work closely with each agency so they can walk alumni through every step of the process. When a claim is filed, staff will make sure it is processed correctly the first time and guide injured service members through this crucial part of their transition.
WWP's International Support program continues to grow at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) and Ramstein Air Base in Germany. LRMC is one of the first locations wounded veterans are transported to once injured. Often, during transport their belongings are not transported with them, and WWP provides comfort items such as jackets, sweatpants, t-shirts and blankets to wounded veterans before they are flown back to the United States, in order to maximize their comfort level. WWP currently has programs and benefits counseling available to warriors stationed at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) in Europe, and WWP also supports the doctors and nurses caring for Wounded Warriors. Through a 'thank you' campaign with warrior stories in the form of posters and videos and an appreciation luncheon held twice a year that includes a personal 'thank you' visit from patients who went through LRMC, WWP strives to share thanks and encouragement and provide much needed stress relief for the staff who take treat the wounded veterans who pass through the facility.
The Peer Support program helps registered alumni develop one-to-one friendships with fellow veterans who are further along in the recovery process. "Peer Mentors" are registered WWP Alumni and Family Support members. These certified Peer Mentors are further along in the recovery process and have received training specifically designed to help them support their WWP peers. The roles of a Peer Mentor include being a role model, motivator, supporter, friend and embodying the peer mentor mantra: Peer mentoring is not about me; it is about the Wounded Warrior I am mentoring.
The Policy and Government Affairs team provides wounded veterans and their families a voice by working with Congress and the Federal government to promote forward-looking policy such as the landmark Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 which was signed into law by President Obama. The team has fought for policy and legislative improvements that aid in closing gaps and eliminating barriers to improved mental health care for warriors, their families and caregivers; fostered the economic empowerment of wounded veterans through policy initiatives to eliminate educational and employment barriers; helped ensure access to optimal, long-term rehabilitative care for severely wounded veterans and necessary supports for their caregivers; and improved the effectiveness of government programs that were established to help wounded veterans and their families transition from active duty to successful community reintegration.
In Congressional testimony, a beneficiary of the program explained,
"Without these outside veterans organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, soldiers such as myself would be very lost."
The WWP Resource Center is a one-stop shop for information about registering as an alumni or family member to participate in WWP programs and services; asking questions about WWP programs and services; connecting with a WWP benefits liaison; identifying appropriate financial assistance options; finding resources to aid in accessibility modifications; and locating resources to provide emotional support. The Resource Center serves and supports warriors, their caregivers and families through a multichannel contact center, available via phone or email. In addition to responding to specific resource requests, the Resource Center representatives actively reach out to warriors and caregivers to engage them in available programs and services.
In March 2014, WWP testified before Congress that they strongly supported the bill "To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide veterans with counseling and treatment for sexual trauma that occurred during inactive duty training (H.R. 2527; 113th Congress)". The bill would extend a VA program of counseling and care and services for veterans for military sexual trauma that occurred during active duty or active duty for training to veterans who experienced such trauma during inactive duty training. The bill would alter current law, which allows access to such counseling only to active duty members of the military, so that members of the Reserves and National Guard would be eligible. Although they were in favor of the bill, WWP pointed out a number of additional related challenges and problems that needed to be solved to improve the treatment of MST-related conditions in veterans. The WWP did a study of its alumni and found that "almost half of the respondents indicated accessing care through VA for MST-related conditions was 'very difficult'. And of those who did not seek VA care, 41% did not know they were eligible for such care." The WWP also testified that in addition to expanding access to MST care, the VA needed to improve care itself, because veterans report "inadequate screening, providers who were either insensitive or lacked needed expertise and facilities ill-equipped to appropriately care for MST survivors."
The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance has accredited WWP as meeting the 20 standards for charity accountability. According to Charity Navigator, WWP allocates 55 percent of its revenue to program expenses and 44.8 percent to fundraising and administrative expenses.
In 2013, WWP declined to accept a donation from Liberty Baptist Church in Fort Pierce, FL, and mistakenly issued this statement to the church leaders: "We must decline the opportunity to be the beneficiary of your event due to our fundraising event criteria, which doesn't allow community events to be religious in nature," read an email from the WWP community events team. "Please note your registration fee will be refunded within the next 7-10 business days." WWP said as a nonpartisan organization they cannot accept event fundraising from companies "in which the product or message is religious in nature."  Shortly after the church received this letter, a WWP spokesperson apologized and said that is was a miscommunication. "'The truth is – it was a mistake from a junior staff member,' the spokesperson said. 'We register religious events on a regular basis and always have.'” 
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