Charities Cited for Ugly Behavior with Wounded Warriors


April 5, 2012; Source: Washington Post

There is a sharp line between working with vulnerable people to educate others on their cause, and crassly exploiting them for fundraising purposes. In this case, the Defense Department inspector general recently released a report about the Marine Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C. wherein the behavior of charitable groups visiting the unit was cited for helping to create a “petting zoo” atmosphere at times. The unit was one of two established in 2007 to help integrate the various services needed by returning Marines. When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) visited in September of 2010, there were 194 marines at Camp Lejeune.

Though overall the management and staff were seen to be operating well, the camp was having problems with charitable groups that, as the Defense Department inspector general’s report notes, “sometimes do not have the best interests of Warriors at heart.” The report mentioned that a few of the “charitable” agencies “had expressed disappointment that TBI—traumatic brain injury—patients did not ‘look the part.’”

This Washington Post article goes on to state, “Some organizations would call in ‘looking for visibly wounded Marines (burn victims, amputees) to participate in their events.’ Some Marines complained to the GAO about ‘the petting zoo environment created when certain non-profit agencies came to visit.’”

NPQ would love to hear from its readers about these kinds of situations. Where is the ethical line that should be drawn? –Ruth McCambridge

  • Linda Dominik

    This is unacceptable to legit 501c3 military support organizations, plus have a feeling the organizations doing as described in the article are not “miltiary support organizations” but local charities who have no idea or have made the effort to even learn about what our wounded warriors go through for our country and the sacrifices they have made. The bad part is they make it bad for the legit 501c3 miitary support organizations who formed to help our heroes, not use them for promtional purposes. For example our organization works through the VA system to help our heroes with pets that have no one to care for them while they are getting the much needed in-patient help or getting the hand up if a homeless veteran. We don’t ask them ro participate in events, but if those we are here to help want to help spread the word and attend an event we are at to help us, we always greatly appreciate it. Sincerely hope this article doesn’t impact the abiity of the military support organizations who specifically formed to be there for our wunded warriors and veterans needing a hand up, their families, and their beloved pets for the right reasons.

  • KC Theisen

    At first blush, this seems like the behavior of the vast majority of charitable/health causes in the US–in order to get an emotional response which leads to action, you put your “most” out there. Most cute, most ill, most tragic, whatever is needed (if you don’t believe this watch an ASPCA ad). Certainly when I worked in a human health NPO, we asked all our patients to share their stories with us, and we valued them. But the stories chosen for national exposure had that “most” factor. But on thinking this through further, I changed my mind, primarily for the reason that these are Marines with injuries. When you are diagnosed with leukemia or lung cancer, there isn’t much competition to be the “most” of anything. And it isn’t pretty. In the case of the Marines,NPOs seeking out the visually changed puts a specific value on a Marine’s sacrifice; the charities want more ‘valuable’ veterans out front, and that’s unacceptable. Being more injured does not mean anything to a member of the Armed Forces. Marines are brothers who never seek personal glory over the success of the mission, and need to be treated as such by the rest of us, no matter how attached we are to the impact a wounded warrior might make on our charitable efforts. Harder to sell, but far more impressive, to let them function and speak to the public/donors/media as the team they are meant to be. Kudos to the veterans’ orgs that are brave enough to choose that path.

  • Gary Teale, Executive Director, Avivara

    This is an issue we struggle with constantly. As an NGO working in Guatemala we want to provide our donors and other visitors from the U.S. with a first-hand look at the good that their donations are doing to support education in rural, poverty-impacted villages. A part of these visits also includes seeing the poverty that is rampant in the villages where we work. However, how do we keep these from becoming what we call “poor(tour)ism.” We do want people to understand the poverty that confronts the villages, but we also want to respect the privacy and dignity of the villagers.

    To address this, we do require that our visitors receive an orientation on the history and scope of poverty in Guatemala prior to visiting the villages, and how to behave respectfully in communities that have experienced centuries of exploitation by foreigners. We also only take visitors to those villages where our organization has developed a very strong and respectful relationship with the school and the community, and where we have communicated to the school and community ahead of time that we will be visiting them.

    However, our biggest issue is with what we call the “Whites in shining armor” or the people who come to Guatemala to “help the poor” by building houses and stoves. It is discouraging to see planeloads of North Americans in their team T-shirts spending thousands of dollars to come to Guatemala to build things that could easily (and much more inexpensively) be constructed by laborers here. And while the foreigners do this manual labor, unemployed Guatemalan construction workers look on hoping that they could have enough work to buy food for their families.

    One of our challenges is to educate our donors on how to balance their desire to help with what is actually needed by the people in Guatemala and in other developing countries. In turn, we try to balance, as best we can, our sharing with others the realities of Guatemala (and thus increasing donations to our project) while still respecting the worth and dignity of the Guatemalans we work with.

  • Luke Samaha

    Maybe the organizations can make it up to them. There’s an opportunity for an awareness campaign: “Is this how you think of a wounded veteran?” with a healthy-looking individual and information on PSD and TBI and how you can help.