From barbecues that draw in the masses, to golf tournaments that raise thousands of dollars, the Wounded Heroes Fund hoped to unite the community around supporting veterans.
Now board members of this non-profit wonder how things behind the scenes turned sour so quickly. "It is personal, you know I found a passion that I love and I have fallen in love this veteran community. And these veterans they are my family," says Wendy Porter.
Jeremy Staat rode cross country this year with fellow veteran Wesley Barrientos to raise awareness about veterans issues. Now Staat's been unanimously voted off the non-profit's board. Even the once friendly relationship between Staat and Barrientos has gone bad with Staat saying Barrientos dropped out of the Wall-to-Wall ride not because of injuries but because he failed to train. "Unfortunately now that I am holding him accountable for the things he said he was doing but he wasn't that's create a lot of rift," says Staat.
"I gave my all, I gave everything I could with my strength. And I did it for the right reasons," says Barrientos.
The tension came to a head with a contentious e-mail exchange between the non-profit's board in July. It centered on a proposal to pay a veteran's widow $1,000 for home repairs. Staat wrote to his fellow board members: "Well that's good to know that a fallen marine is only worth a thousand dollars to the Wounded Heroes fund. We can go out and generate more funds. That's what a non-profit does or is that too much work?"
"A thousand dollars isn't going to help her. She needs a lot more than a thousand dollars when she she has three kids a mortgage and a car. And I thought it was insulting," Staat said.
Porter told 17 News that the widow never asked for any help, but the WHF would have given her $10,000 had she indicated she needed it.
And board members contend Staat's messages turned personal--accusing the Wounded Hero's Fund of sitting on a $300,000 savings account and serving only post 9-11 veterans while those from previous conflicts struggle.
"Just not too sure why we even fundraise if the money is just going sit there. Why not hire some wounded homeless veterans and give them some sort of income so that maybe they can get back on their feet," Staat wrote. He even suggested Wendy Porter step down as executive director and let a veteran take over.
"So my name (is) at the top, and I am not a veteran, but the majority of the board members are veterans, and they make the decisions," says Porter.
Porter wrote back: "your lack of participation and knowledge as to what Wounded Heroes is doing and where our money is being used suggests that Wounded Heroes fund is not a priority to you. Maybe it is time for you to resign and focus all of your energy on your own foundation. No hard feelings meant by this, but I am offended by your comments and to me it's apparent that your agenda is strictly for the Jeremy Staat Foundation."
"I responded with, if I had the time, if I wasn't out riding across the country helping raise awareness about veteran suicide, redesigning a more efficient VA system, and veteran education on all college campuses as well as childhood obesity, I would have been able to make those meetings. When I was out there raising awareness for our veterans I told Wendy Porter the same thing, I told her with these are my priorities: God, family country and corps. And I am sorry you didn't make the top four," says Staat.
But Staat makes no apologies for being direct, saying it's just in his nature to lay things out the way he sees them. The Wounded Heroes Fund plans to memorialize the 26 local gold star families who have lost someone in the war on terror
and to help build homes for up to three double amputees.
We're an open book. If anyone wants to see how much money we have or what we've spent, you are more than welcome to come and take a look at it. But I tell you it's nowhere near enough for the mission that we have to provide service support to the veterans of Kern County," says Sergeant Major Jason Geis, Vice President of the Wounded Heroes Fund.
The worry is that the rift will negatively impact fundraising and the ability to serve local veterans. Both sides say that's not what they want.