WaPo’s Walter Reed series continues… to further disgust that is. Today’s articles discloses that an official who ran the Army’s Medical Family Assistance Center is now under investigation for conflict of interest in soliciting funds for his own Texas charity while he was supposed to be matching “big-hearted donors with thousands of wounded
soldiers who could not afford to feed their children, pay mortgages,
buy plane tickets or put up visiting families in nearby hotels”…
while he was being paid to provide this vital service to patients,
outpatients and their relations, Wagner was also seeking funders and
soliciting donations for his own new charity, based in Texas, according
to documents and interviews with current and former staff members. Some
families also said Wagner treated them callously and made it hard for
them to receive assistance.
Last week, Walter Reed launched a criminal investigation of Wagner
after The Washington Post sought a response to his activities while he
ran the Army’s Medical Family Assistance Center, a position he left
several weeks ago. Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the commander at
Walter Reed, said the probe by the Criminal Investigation Command (CID)
“reflects the seriousness with which we take these allegations.”
Weightman’s legal adviser, Col. Samuel Smith, said that “it would
clearly be a conflict of interest” prohibited by federal law, Army
regulations and Defense Department ethics rules if Wagner used his
position to solicit funds for his own organization.
“We had many family members who came to me because they couldn’t get a
respectful and compassionate response from Dr. Wagner,” said Peggy
Baker, director of a charity that helps wounded soldiers, Operation
Wagner, who has a doctorate in education, resigned his position last
month to work full time on his Military, Veteran and Family Assistance
Foundation, based in Dallas. The foundation includes the Phoenix
Project, which runs marriage retreats for soldiers returning from
combat. According to its Web site, the foundation is supported by
several corporations, other foundations and individuals.
phone interview, Wagner denied he had solicited funds or made contact
with donors during office hours. “It’s just not true,” he said. “I
intentionally stayed out of that. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do
both.” He said he is not paid by the foundation. The documents that
would verify that have not yet been filed with the Internal Revenue
Wagner said his superiors “knew of my involvement right
from the beginning.” Weightman said the command had been unaware of
Wagner’s Texas charity until recently.
Wagner said that the charity was founded by his brother and that he did
not officially become its executive director until he left Walter Reed.
But fundraising documents from early January, before he resigned, list
him as the director, and the organization’s Web site called him its
executive director months before he resigned.
The article goes on with accounts of complaints from families as well as staff members some of whom lodged complaints with superiors regarding Wagner. Examples of complaints from 3 staff include…
–“Instead of working with the families at Walter Reed and with us, he spent all his time putting together the Phoenix Project.”
–“All day long he’d work on his program,” she said. “If someone came in
to donate money, he would talk to them about his project.”
–“It was really all at the expense of the service member,” said Sandra
Butterfield, who worked at Walter Reed as an ombudsman for a Defense
Department-funded relief organization. “He decreed that everything had
to go through him,” and it didn’t seem to matter if that slowed the
Finally Wagner was looking for big money…
Wagner included an ambitious business plan to take the charity from a
$237,000 pilot project in the first year, which ended in August 2006 —
while he was working at Walter Reed — to a $145 million foundation by
Here is a photo of Michael Wagner from the Military, Veteran and Family Assistance Foundation web site at which he is identified as the Executive Director and Chairman…
Walter Reed commander Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman’s contention that they had been unaware of
Wagner’s Texas charity until recently is interesting given this April 2006 Pentagon Channel video on the Phoenix Project in which Wagner appears. I guess there is awareness and then there is awareness…Heckuva job all around.
The link for the video was found at Wagner’s MVFA site.
Screen cap from video of Wagner…
UPDATE: The first photo of Wagner above has been removed from the MVFA web site. Figures. A screen capture of the web page can be seen after the cut.