Uncovering the veterans issues scandal, CNN’s Drew Griffin helped ordinary people find the courage to right things

Washington D.C

In 2014, Drawn GriffinOur beloved CNN colleague, who passed away this weekend, met with arguably the most important source for one of his most groundbreaking stories at a small Phoenix bar.

Pauline DeWenter, schedule secretary at Veterans Affairs Hospital in Phoenix, chose the location because it was far from work.

She doesn’t want anyone at the VA hospital to see her with Drew and his producer, Scott Bronstein, and combine the two and two that she’s his source for a story that’s happening. shaken the Obama administration.

Phoenix VA hospital officials have kept a secret list to conceal a backlog of patients awaiting care, some of which can last as long as nine months.

At the time, the Department of Veterans Affairs set a goal of seeing the patient within 14 days. The VA even pays bonuses to senior employees who have the facility to meet veterans in a timely manner.

DeWenter, Drew and Bronstein would meet several times as she provided background information, her identity concealed in his stories. In the end, Drew managed to convince her to keep recording and take part in a camera interview as an irrevocable whistleblower.

“He was very patient and understanding,” she said, but she was still reluctant to go public.

After a meeting, she went home and prayed. And then, she changed her mind.

The next day, Drew interviewed DeWenter on camera.

“What happened to those people?” He told her.

“They went into a desk drawer,” she replied.

Those people are American veterans, on a secret list of patients hiding backlog at Phoenix VA hospital.

In some cases, they die with their names still on that list, still in that drawer, before they get to see a primary care doctor or have an ultrasound.

“[Drew] told me, ‘After this interview airs, your life will never be the same again. “It may be good or it may be bad, but it will never be the same,” DeWenter said. “He was right.”

It’s been tough for a while – she’s still working at the hospital after all, as the story is unfolding. But eventually new management arrived, and DeWenter says the environment has completely changed.

By the time Drew and his team had spent more than two years reporting on what was simply called the “VA Scandal,” they had already convinced the director of the Phoenix VA hospital, Sharon Helman, (before she did). fired) sat down for an interview, but just before Drew ran after her, mic in hand, trying to make a comment in the hospital parking lot as she sped away in her blue Mercedes Benz me.

their final report forced the then VA Minister Eric Shinseki to resignpushed for federal law and an overhaul of how VA hospitals schedule patients.

And finally, President Barack Obama personally visited the Phoenix VA hospital, acknowledging the “significant problems” discovered at the VA and promising assurances that the department would work for veterans.

During his career, Drew has won numerous awards with CNN’s team of investigative producers, but he’s not one to bask in the glow of ballroom lights during lavish dinners. .

Usually he just stays at home.

For Drew, the biggest compliments were the changes brought about by his report, the mistakes he discovered were corrected.

“He loves ordinary people who have been ‘disturbed’ somewhere and he wants to give them the courage to say that’s not true,” said Bronstein, a CNN senior investigative producer. .

2015 is not without awards ceremonies. One bean. The Edward R. Murrow Award. The honors are huge, but the one that means the most to Drew is the fourth Real Estate Award from the American Legion – from the veteran community itself.

In a country with only a small minority of the population serving in the military, this honor is an acknowledgment that Drew’s report stands out for its challenging civilian views on how the United States government enforces its rule of law. veterans care.

He reveals that the huge bureaucracy that is the VA, when unreported and unaccountable, cannot be trusted to make a simple covenant with the military: you serve your country. yourself and we’ll deliver the benefits you’ve earned.

“It has been a shock to a new generation of Americans how they view VA,” said Paul Rieckhoff, who founded the nonprofit organization Veterans of America in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Until those stories started coming in, most Americans trusted the VA unnecessarily. So it’s important to reveal dysfunction that, at worst, can cost people their lives.”

VA still faces significant challenges provides care to 9 million registered veteransbut Drew’s report revealed corruption in the bureaucracy that is vital to the health of our nation.

What stood out to me was how small the whole story started out and it required persistence.

In 2013, long before the Phoenix revelations happened, Drew pushed his team to pursue a tip in South Carolina about delayed care for veterans at William Jennings Bryan Dorn Hospital VA in Columbia.

“We didn’t know how big it was,” recalls Bronstein, but soon their investigation expanded, spurred on by internal VA documents they obtained.

South Carolina is not an anomaly. Veterans are dying as they wait months for rudimentary care in Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and even Colorado.

When he continued, Drew faced fierce opposition from the authorities.

Nelli Black, a CNN senior investigative producer who also produced the stories, recalls: “We were really getting in the way by the VA. “A lot of times they told us we were wrong.”

Patricia DiCarlo, who is currently the executive producer of the investigative unit, describes how administration officials tried to disrupt the investigative team by calling a CNN executive. “They are running around to manage.”

But Drew kept trying. He, as always, is undaunted.

Drew’s journalistic prowess is that he shows us who the bureaucracy is strangling. And he also forces those in power to see it.

As he said when accepting Peabody in 2015, graciously but perhaps reluctantly, “Our goal in this report is not just to shed light on this issue, we want to influence the change, holding these politicians and officials accountable. We call it keeping them honest.”


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