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Wounded Warrior Project sues a veteran critic in Gig Harbor

A national veterans nonprofit group is suing a Gig Harbor veteran in federal court, alleging that the former airman has defamed the organization in articles he posted to several websites.

The Wounded Warrior Project is seeking unspecified financial damages from Vietnam veteran Gordon “Alex” Graham in a lawsuit the nonprofit filed in federal court in Tacoma last week.

Based in Florida, the Wounded Warrior Project raised $225 million in 2013. It collects funds through a one-time and monthly giving program that has drawn celebrity endorsements, including a recent commercial featuring actor Mark Wahlberg.

The nonprofit alleges that Graham’s postings to websites such as Veterans Today and Graham’s blog have hindered its fundraising by creating an aura of suspicion around its work. Graham has called the Wounded Warrior Project a “scam” in articles that criticize its spending on fundraising, advertising and salaries.

In court documents, the Wounded Warrior Project’s lawyers point to dozens of statements from social media websites in which people linked to Graham’s stories, criticized the nonprofit and said they would not donate to it again.

“WWP has and will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a result of Graham’s defamatory statements regarding WWP,” the lawyers wrote in their complaint.

One posting they cited reads “I’m greatly concerned about all of the rumors and articles circulating that’s suggesting [WWP] is a scam . . . . I hate to say it, but I want to cancel my membership.”

Reached by phone Monday, Graham, 63, said he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

He said he had been anticipating that the Wounded Warrior Project would file suit against him because it pursued legal action against another critic last year in Indiana. Wounded Warrior Project won that case against Dean Graham, who is not related to Alex Graham of Gig Harbor. Dean Graham retracted the allegations he leveled against Wounded Warrior Project in a May court filing.

(Alex Graham removed his articles from the Veterans Today site Monday after a News Tribune reporter informed him of the lawsuit.)

Alex Graham takes issues with salaries paid to Wounded Warrior Project executives. The group paid a total of $2.2 million to 11 executives in 2013, according to tax forms the Wounded Warrior Projects posts to its website.

“They’re spending so much money on fundraising that there’s nothing left for the veterans,” Graham told The News Tribune.

Wounded Warrior Project contends that it spends 80 percent of its revenue on its own programs for wounded veterans and grants to other organizations. It gave a small grant to Tacoma’s Goodwill in 2013, for example.

The group, founded in 2003, wrote in court filings that it provided support to almost 58,000 wounded veterans or military family members in 2014.

Alex Graham’s campaign gained so much attention that the nonprofit database Guidestar in 2014 issued a statement distancing itself from Graham’s characterizations of financial records he obtained from its website. Several national news organizations also have produced segments challenging Graham’s depiction of the organization.

A Wounded Warrior Project representative did not reply to a request for comment Monday. The organization has an office in Seattle.

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