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Veterans charity paid its own founder to provide medical care

Published Dec. 16, 2013

Editor's note: As part of a yearlong investigation into charities across the nation, the Tampa Bay Times and its reporting partner, the Center for Investigative Reporting, asked readers to suggest nonprofits for closer review. This story is part of an occasional series revealing what we found.

Healing Heroes Network has a mission that tugs at the heartstrings: providing financial assistance to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can get critical medical care.

But the nonprofit based in Palm Harbor also raises a few red flags for donors.

Just 5 years old, the group has a top executive who makes a six-figure salary. And her physician husband received more than half of the cash that the charity spent on medical services over the past two years.

Dr. Allan Spiegel, the charity's founder and president, is a specialist in the field of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which he advocates as an effective treatment for some combat-related injuries. Since 2011, the charity reported spending about $160,000 on medical services for veterans. Spiegel received more than half of that.

His wife, Stacey, runs Healing Heroes a few doors down from his medical practice. As treasurer, she earned $110,000 in 2012.

Neither of the Spiegels returned repeated messages left at the charity office and the medical practice. When a reporter visited Healing Heroes last year, Stacey Spiegel declined to comment about her charity.

Healing Heroes is battling for donors' attention in a field packed with better-known charities, including Paralyzed Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project. It has relied heavily on professional telemarketers to generate donations. These outside solicitors, however, keep about 89 percent of the money raised, according to the charity's recent IRS tax filings. Healing Heroes also sponsors annual motorcycle giveaways to raise cash.

In 2012, the charity reported total revenue of $1.67 million. Though its IRS filing said Healing Heroes spent nearly $1 million on programs for veterans, more than $600,000 of that went to a contractor for "program management." In the tax form, charity officials did not explain who received the money or how it furthered Healing Heroes' mission.

As a relatively new charity, Healing Heroes has not been reviewed by most of the major evaluation websites. The group has 27 reviews, overwhelmingly positive, on GreatNonprofits.org, a site that allows people to rate charities based on their personal experiences.

Dr. Spiegel started Healing Heroes while serving on the board of Kids Wish Network in Holiday. The Times and CIR ranked Kids Wish the worst charity in America based on the amount spent on fundraising over the past decade.

In 2009, Spiegel hired marketing companies owned by Kids Wish founder, Mark Breiner, to run car sweepstakes for the charity. That relationship ended in August 2011.

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