By Rebecca Kheel - 01/28/16 05:11 PM EST
Veterans groups say Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is disrespecting those who served in the military by using their plight in his ongoing rivalry with Fox News.
Instead of participating in Fox's GOP debate Thursday night, Trump is holding a separate campaign event that he promised would benefit veterans groups.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, pledged his group wouldn’t take money from Trump’s event should it be offered.
“If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump's event,” Rieckhoff tweeted Wednesday. “We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.”
“If folks want to support vets, $$ doesn't need to be funneled through a political campaign,” he added in a tweet Thursday. “Just donate directly to groups doing good work.”
The Wounded Warrior Project, which itself has been the subject of controversy this week, has been touted by Trump in the past as a veterans group he supports. But it also distanced itself from Trump’s event, telling CNN and CBS it hasn’t been contacted to receive fundraising from the event.
Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of progressive veterans group VoteVets.org, was even harsher in repudiating Trump.
“Let me put this in language Donald Trump understands,” Soltz said in a statement. “You’re a loser. You’re a third-rate politician, who clearly doesn’t understand issues and is so scared of Megyn Kelly exposing it, that you’re looking to use veterans to protect you from facing her questions.”
Trump decided to shun the Fox debate because of his ongoing battle with anchor Megyn Kelly and a mocking statement from the network when he floated the possibility of not participating.
A fundraising site set up for Trump’s event says 100 percent of the proceeds will go to veterans, but also that the money is being donated to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto, campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson didn’t name a specific group that will receive the money.
“I believe there might be a list on the website,” she said when asked to name a group that’s agreed to accept the money. “There are a lot of organizations that are in queue to sign up for this. There are some veterans that will be attending tonight and will be doing some of the program, as well.”
Trump has drawn the ire of veterans repeatedly on the campaign trail. Over the summer, Trump was criticized after he implied Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wasn’t war hero for being a prisoner of war.
Veterans also dismissed his plans for the Department of Veterans Affairs as “unserious.”