LAKE PARK, Fla. – A scathing report by the New York Times accuses the national non-profit Wounded Warrior Project of spending millions of dollars in donations on salaries, travel and lavish meetings; but that's causing confusion for a veterans group in our area.
The Wounded Warriors of South Florida have a similar name but are completely different. The 501c3 helps wounded veterans in our area and there's a noticeable difference between the high rise the WWP works out of in Jacksonville versus the small rented bare bones garage that is the Lake Park headquarters of the Wounded Warriors of South Florida.
"We just recently got an air conditioner," explained retired Army Lt. General Robert Chelberg, chairman of the Wounded Warriors of South Florida Board of Directors. "We've been here since 2012 and had no air conditioning, so it was very hot."
With three paid staff members and a volunteer board of 15, Wounded Warriors of South Florida helps more than 1,000 veterans each year.
"We're very fortunate we have a lot of donated items that people have given us," Chelberg detailed. A conference table, chairs, filing cabinets, computers. Nothing fancy, that's it. But after an investigation into another charity for wounded veterans, the WWP, some are confusing the two nonprofits.
"We've had a number of phone calls come in and then people who are on the board, their friends have gotten a lot of questions too," Chelberg explained. "So we try to tell them we're the Wounded Warriors of South Florida and explain that." Explaining that they have no affiliation with the national group, Wounded Warriors of South Florida doesn't get a dime of support from the WWP. In fact Wounded Warriors of South Florida prides itself on how much money they take in that goes right back out the door and into the hands of local veterans with desperate needs.
"In 2014 our administrative overhead was 9.4% and in 2015 it was 8.8%, so over 91 cents out of every dollar last year were going to the veterans," according to Chelberg.
Wounded veterans in need are refereed from Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics throughout South Florida. If they meet criteria, Wounded Warriors of South Florida steps in pays their immediate bills to get that veteran back on his or her feet and back in the game of life.
"We're a local organization here in Florida," Chelberg said. "And we're taking care of our people right here in Florida."