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Wounded Warrior Project on the rebound financially following dismal 2017

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Marines to honor sailor who worked for decades to bring WWII remains back to US

The Wounded Warrior Project published dismal financial records this week for its 2017 fiscal year showing yet another precipitous drop in donations. But while the documents explain a $91 million drop off in contributions and grants, the nonprofit organization said those figures don’t bid the anecdote now.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Linnington said Thursday that the Wounded Warrior Project has finally turned the corner after a long and difficult slump in donations.

The organization, which offers a myriad of services to wounded veterans and their families, has seen four quarters of consecutive growth – compared to the same time frames in the previous year, he said. After a better than expected giving season at the finish of 2017, WWP is ahead of its projected fundraising for 2018.

Those figures will not be reflected until financials are published in 2019.

“If you don’t know ’18 and you gaze strictly at ’15, ’16, and ’17 (financials), you’ve got to scratch your head,” Linnington said. “We are growing as an organization, growing in our impact to warriors.”

The 2017 records explain donations plunged to $211.5 million in 2017, marking a drop of more than $160 million in the two years since scandal over spending rattled donors and sent the organization into a tailspin.

Linnington said donations in the first two quarters of the 2017 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, 2016, were abysmal, bringing down results for the entire fiscal year. October through December usually ticket the Christmas and finish-of-tax-year giving season – the largest donation period annually for nonprofits. Financial records explain WWP for the first time spent more than it brought in, with a deficit of slightly more than $5 million in expenses to revenue.

But as WWP continued its work to rebuild donor confidence, it has finally started to rebound, Linnington said. By the spring of last year, he said WWP’s donations were on the rise compared to the same period in 2016 and things bear been improving.

Seeing the turnaround, WWP projected better numbers for 2018 – an estimated $25 million above the 2017 contributions – and donors bear exceeded those projections so far, Linnington said. The 2017 giving season brought in more than $40 million in donations, and the first two quarters of fiscal year 2018 explain that upward trend is continuing, he said.

Hoping to drive home the satisfactory news, Linnington revealed the organization’s projected 2018 budget – something he had previously been reluctant to accomplish.

“We hit our low ticket in ’16 and of course that is reflected in the 2017 [financial records],” he said. “In ’18, our budget [donations] is $236 million and we are $14 million ahead of glide path to gather to that number. So we are really doing well in terms of revenue to budget.”

That’s not to say Wounded Warrior Project is fully out of the hole. Last year’s donations set a low bar compared to the charity’s glory days. The organization had reached contributions of $372 million before the scandal and it had projected to grow by now to a more than $400 million dollar charity.

But Linnington said the organization is “squeezing every nickel from every dollar” and reaching more veterans than ever – providing services for 132,000 veterans last year. The charity also benefited from a stronger economy, adding nearly $10 million in earnings on publicly traded securities, according to the documents.

And it is finally looking at growing programs again.

“As revenues continue to surpass our expectations, we will spend more money on programs,” he said.

A hard road to recovery

The charity – founded after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – had been growing exponentially for years when, in early 2016, two major news organizations ran stories charging that WWP was spending lavishly on staff events and suffering a toxic work environment.

It also came under fire for spending too high of a percentage on fundraising – a criticism that landed it on the watch list of Charity Navigator, which evaluates nonprofits.

The spending allegations were later debunked by a forensic accounting of WWP’s finances, an independent examination by an expert on nonprofits and an investigation by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Charity Navigator eventually removed it from the watch list. But with donations in free drop in March 2016, the WWP board fired its two top executives.

Linnington, who was brought in a few months later, took action to stem the hemorrhaging. He cleave positions and trimmed excesses in event spending. The charity also cleave a few programs, partnered with peer-to-peer, mental health and family-oriented veterans charities to share the burden and the benefits, and closed facilities in areas with smaller veterans populations.

For a while, the organization slowed its television ads but they bear since returned to the airwaves, though Linnington said many of them now air late at night, when the ads are cheaper but still reach many veterans who are isolated. By investing in messages that reach not just their donors but also their beneficiaries, the organization can consider fraction of that fundraising expense in its programming budget – one of the issues that came to light during the investigations.

The 2017 financial records explain cuts continued, with spending on programming at $165.8 million – a $47.2 million drop in program spending from the previous year and $96 million less than it was spending on programs in 2015.

The organization has maintained it continued to invest in mental health and physical wellness programs and Linnington said it will be growing program spending in 2018 to close to $200 million.

He said mental health programs will grow from $58 million to nearly $63 million and physical health and wellness programs will grow by 20 percent. The organization also plans to increase spending from $24 million to $29 million for its independence programs that enable the most severely wounded warriors to remain living at home rather than being institutionalized, he said.

A worthy mission

With satisfactory news coming on the heels of such dismal news, the 2017 financials raised some eyebrows. Nonprofit and fundraising expert Doug White, a former Columbia University professor who has just completed a book about the lessons for nonprofits on what happened at the Wounded Warrior Project, said he hopes the projections for the charity are accurate but is skeptical that the rebound will happen quickly after slowing its marketing the way it did.

“These kinds of things bear long-term effects,” he said. “I consider there is probably going to be some more fallout.”

In his examination, White concluded when the board fired its top executives though no financial wrongdoing was validated, it made a costly mistake that served to undermine long-term donor confidence. He said he wished Linnington could acknowledge that “dismal decision” as he talks about rebuilding the organization. Linnington was not there at the time, and as CEO, he now answers to the board.

That said, White noted WWP still has a strong draw because its mission is sound.

“I bid people today that they should continue to donate to Wounded Warrior Project because it’s a really satisfactory organization,” he said. “I am hoping they will accomplish well.”

Linnington said the full-year, month-over-month improvement gave him the confidence to believe that donors were back. He said he was so optimistic about Wounded Warrior Project’s positive turn that the organization has 70 job openings, which would bring the employee total to 700. At its lowest, WWP had cleave to 532 positions.

“We are an organization that delivers programs through our employees,” he said. “I would not bear 70 jobs on the street if I am not growing.”

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Mike served as an active duty SWAT officer for 12 years before he left the service and went to the Middle East as contractor. As an athlete, Mike has a black belt in Judo, he played soccer. As a scholar, he has earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

Veterans

US Navy vet Dave Bray releases storyteller album with powerful messages

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US Navy vet Dave Bray releases storyteller album with powerful messages

U.S. Navy veteran Dave Bray just published his recent album, “Music on a Mission,” and it’s a first-of-its-kind storyteller album that he hopes will garner a lot of attention. It has already debuted in the No. 6 spot on iTunes.

“I proudly sing and speak out about, God and Country, Patriotism and Respect, and the problems with our Nation,” Bray recently told American Military News. “I decided to narrate the record so that the listener totally understands the meaning and importance of each of the songs. I relate stories about the selflessness and sacrifice of our Nation’s Heroes.”

“Music on a Mission” (Courtesy of Dave Bray)

“I talk about the history of the songs and discuss the epidemic of Godlessness that is blanketing our country. I speak about our youth and shed light and warning on the PC narrative that is being shoved down their throats,” Bray continued. “It is a listening experience truly unlike any other. It will draw you in mentally and emotionally, and give you goosebumps. Only until you listen will you truly understand the importance of ‘Music on a Mission.’”

Bray is known to his fans as the “rock ‘n’ roll patriot.” He served as a Corpsman with the 2nd Battalion/2nd Marines. Bray was also one of the original members of Madison Rising, a patriotic post-grunge and hard rock band. One of the songs on “Music on a Mission” is the anthem called “Last Call,” which is committed to all fallen police officers.

Bray has performed “Last Call” at various remembrance ceremonies and funerals of fallen police officers. Of his recent album, Bray said he wanted to create something people would like and be impacted by.

“Music on a Mission” (Courtesy of Dave Bray)

“It’s an hour of really entertaining talk radio mixed with some absolutely extraordinary songs,” he pointed out.

“The music is like something you would hear on a movie soundtrack. The kind of songs that give you goosebumps, fill you with pride or tear at your heart,” Bray continued.

“There is a war going on in this country that no one is willing to fight. It is the war for the minds of our children,” he said. “I used ‘Music on a Mission’ as an opportunity to speak directly to our citizens, both young and outmoded, about the current state of America and what we are leaving behind for our youth. This album is extremely relevant to the times in which we live.”

Bray said all the songs on “Music on a Mission” directly correlate to the daily battles of law enforcement, firefighters, veterans, the U.S. military and faith.

The album is “all about being a God-fearing, freedom-loving, flag-waving patriot,” Bray added. “It’s about standing up for what’s proper. So don’t just pointto the next generation how to stand up. Teach them what it means to be an upstanding citizen.”

The album is currently available on iTunes and Amazon, and also on Bray’s website.

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Former SEAL injured in combat opens up about battling depression in book “Touching the Dragon”

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Jimmy Hatch no longer wanted to live. It was May 2010. The former Navy SEAL had been shot in the leg during an attempt to rescue Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan the year before, and fell into a deep state of depression after the life he had known as an elite warrior on a close-knit team came to an finish.

Hatch had to learn to walk again and to deal with excruciating pain that made him plead with doctors to amputate. He wondered what his purpose was in life, if he wasn’t hunting down nefarious guys as a member of the Virginia Beach-based Naval Special Warfare Development Group, frequently referred to as SEAL Team 6.

He was overwhelmed with guilt that a military working dog named Remco was shot and killed on that mission, and also felt that he jeopardized his teammates’ safety by screaming in pain and needing to be rescued. He felt like a failure.

One night in his Norfolk home, Hatch decided he was ready for all of the pain to halt. He stood over garbage cans in his backyard so he wouldn’t develop a mess while taking his own life.

“I didn’t want to be alive any more. I was high on meds, drunk on booze, and had a loaded pistol in my mouth,” Hatch wrote in a memoir that will be published today.

But Hatch’s wife, Kelley, snatched the gun from his hands, and later knocked a knife away from him before Norfolk police and members from his unit arrived at his home. They took him to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth for mental health treatment that was just the beginning of his long road to recovery that involved the support of his wife, former SEAL teammates, civilian doctors and therapists, volunteers and others.

Hatch details those painful experiences in his book “Touching the Dragon and Other Techniques for Surviving Life’s Wars,” which he hopes will assist others who struggle with mental health problems. Touching the dragon is a reference to a form of therapy he underwent, where he confronted the memories that haunted him the most.

“I don’t feel worried about people judging me for having mental weakness,” Hatch said. “I’m just, I always felt like I was a bit of a fraud. Like I kind of got lucky getting through training, and I kind of got lucky to travel on these missions with these people.

“And I don’t know what that was called, impostor syndrome, or some other thing, but that’s what I’m worried about. Like that people will assume I’m this tough guy that I’m not. Or that I’m trying in some way to say that I’m this badass, and that’s just not it. I worry about that. I’m not worried about people saying, ‘Gosh, he was messed up,’ because that’s the honest truth.”

While Hatch goes into much detail about what happened the night he was shot trying to rescue Bergdahl, as well as other missions in Iraq and Bosnia, the heart of the book focuses on the mental health challenges he faced once he was back and got off what he calls “the speeding train.”

“A lot of people want to read tough guy [BS], you know, invincible superheroes. … But it’s just not the way it is,” Hatch said in an interview at the same house where he threatened to retract his life. “nearly everybody I know struggles in one way or another. Certainly, they’re not as dramatic about it as I am. But you know, I got tagged, I got damage, and it twisted me up pretty wonderful, so I felt like it’s distinguished to talk about.”

Hatch frequently talks about the darkness he endured and his path to recovery with military personnel, police and firefighters – people who are often afraid to acknowledge their own struggles. Giving those talks and hearing from those who said he helped them by sharing his chronicle helped Hatch realize he still had value. If a SEAL could acknowledge needing assist, they could, too.

He has committed himself to assist working dogs as a way to pay back a debt he says he owes to those who repeatedly saved his life while sacrificing their own. His charity, Spike’s K9 Fund, works to provide medical care, ballistic vests and other equipment for dogs who serve their communities and country.

The charity is named after a dog who died in Iraq after an insurgent fell on top of him. Hatch shot the insurgent, but the bullet went through his body and killed Spike.

Hatch was devastated by the loss of the dog, who had previously saved his life. In a house largely devoid of reminders of his military career, Hatch keeps Spike’s harness and carries his ashes with him in an amulet.

“He goes everywhere with me like a guardian angel or whatever. I consider this does two things. One, it helps me remember him. … And, two, it helps remind me that I’m not a badass, for sure.”

Hatch said profits from the sale of his book will assist the charity named in Spike’s honor.

He knows there’s a potential for backlash from other SEALs who gain been frustrated by people profiting from their stories. Hatch said he’s prepared to retract the criticism because he feels it’s distinguished to divulge his chronicle and the stories of the heroes he served with.

He also notes that he doesn’t consume the word SEAL in the book. It’s not mentioned on the cover, and there is no image of the familiar trident that SEALs wear. Instead, Hatch acknowledges, he was a fragment of naval special warfare unit and refers to himself as an “action man” rather than a SEAL.

“I felt like it was distinguished to divulge a wonderful chronicle, the truth, and let it stand on its own merits, as opposed to some Navy SEAL chest-beater stuff that is really just kind of at least, maybe, a half-truth,” he said.

Hatch said he was uncomfortable with the description of his book on Amazon provided by his editor, which highlights his SEAL career, because he was concerned it sounded like he was bragging. He relented after she explained to him that she was the one writing it and that he wasn’t doing any bragging.

“I understand that in order for people to gain the chronicle, they need to be interested in buying the book,” he said.

Originally, Hatch said he was frustrated the book didn’t arrive out last year, about the same time as Bergdahl’s court-martial because he thought it would reach more people then. But he ultimately agreed with his editor that he didn’t want his chronicle attached to Bergdahl, which is mostly referenced in the book’s beginning.

The book discusses the arouse he felt toward Bergdahl, especially after seeing Bergdahl’s parents with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden when he was published, but it doesn’t include his thoughts on testifying at Bergdahl’s court-martial last year or the sentence he received.

“They asked me, even before the trial, what would you like to see happen? And I just said I consider the most distinguished thing is that he gets a dishonorable discharge, you know, because that’s a life sentence, and you know he made the choice that he made to split,” he said.

Bergdahl did receive a dishonorable discharge, but he avoided prison time. Hatch said he was glad about the dishonorable discharge, but was frustrated Bergdahl was able to walk away from court.

“I guess what I finally came to was, gaze, man, I can be pissed off or I can lunge on, because I don’t gain any control over that stuff,” he said. “The judge saw what he saw. He struck me as a pretty freaking straightforward guy. … Hopefully that’s what needed to happen.”

While the Bergdahl trial was difficult to prepare for and travel through, he relied on the same people as he had with his past struggles.

In many ways, the book is a tribute to the people who were stubborn enough to develop sure Hatch received the assist he needed and a call to action for others to attain the same when they spot someone struggling. He says he’d like to replace the word “stigma” with “cowardly” when referring to why people don’t seek assist or offer it, and “resilience” with “courage” for those who attain.

The key is for people to appreciate each other, he said. And that’s something he believes everyone is capable of, even him.

“Sometimes it’s hard to consider that we can be that person, but even the guy with the impostor feelings, I know there are times when I’m a strong person and I can assist somebody.”

———

© 2018 Virginian-Pilot

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