In 2014, Drew Griffin, our beloved CNN colleague who handed away this weekend, met with arguably an important supply for one in all his most groundbreaking tales in a seedy bar in Phoenix.
Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk on the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Phoenix, picked the spot as a result of it was removed from work.
She didn’t need anybody on the VA hospital to see her with Drew and his producer, Scott Bronstein, and put two and two collectively that she was his supply for a narrative that was rocking the Obama administration.
The Phoenix VA hospital officers had been conserving a secret record to cover a backlog of sufferers ready for care, some for so long as 9 months.
On the time, the Division of Veterans Affairs had set a aim to see sufferers inside 14 days. The VA was even paying bonuses to senior workers whose amenities noticed veterans inside a well timed method.
DeWenter, Drew and Bronstein would meet a number of occasions as she offered background info, her id shielded in his tales. Ultimately Drew tried to persuade her to go on the file and sit for an on-camera interview as a whistleblower who couldn’t be denied.
“He was very affected person and understanding,” she stated, however she was nonetheless reluctant to go public.
After one assembly, she went dwelling and prayed. After which, she modified her thoughts.
The subsequent day, Drew interviewed DeWenter on digicam.
“What occurred to these folks?” he requested her.
“They went right into a desk drawer,” she replied.
These folks have been American veterans, on that secret record that hid the backlog of sufferers on the Phoenix VA hospital.
In some instances, they died with their names nonetheless on that record, nonetheless in that drawer, earlier than they have been ever seen for an appointment with a main care doctor or administered an ultrasound.
“[Drew] informed me, ‘After this interview airs, your life won’t ever be the identical. Both it is going to be good, or it could be dangerous, however it can by no means be the identical,” DeWenter stated. “He was proper.”
It was troublesome for a short time – she was nonetheless working on the hospital, in any case, because the story was breaking extensive open. However finally new administration got here in and DeWenter stated the surroundings utterly modified.
By the point Drew and his workforce had spent greater than two years reporting on what would come to be identified merely as “The VA Scandal,” they’d satisfied the director of the Phoenix VA hospital, Sharon Helman, (previous to her firing) to take a seat down for an interview, however not earlier than Drew adopted after her, a stick mic in his hand, attempting to get a remark within the hospital car parking zone whereas she sped away in her blue Mercedes Benz.
Their reporting finally compelled then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, prompted federal laws and an overhaul of the best way VA hospitals schedule sufferers.
And finally President Barack Obama personally visited the Phoenix VA hospital, acknowledging “vital issues” uncovered on the VA, and promising to verify the division would work for veterans.
Over his profession, Drew received many awards together with his workforce of CNN investigative producers however he wasn’t one for basking within the glow of ballroom lights at fancy dinners.
Normally he simply stayed dwelling.
To Drew, the best accolades have been the modifications led to by his reporting, the wrongs he uncovered that have been righted.
“He cherished abnormal individuals who had gotten ‘effed’ someplace and he needed to offer them the braveness to say that wasn’t proper,” Bronstein, a CNN senior investigative producer, stated.
In 2015, there was no avoiding the award ceremonies. A Peabody. An Edward R. Murrow Award. Large honors, however the one which meant probably the most to Drew was The Fourth Property Award from The American Legion – from the veteran group itself.
In a rustic the place solely a small minority of the inhabitants has served within the navy, the consideration was an acknowledgment that Drew’s reporting stands out for difficult civilian views about how the US authorities executes its responsibility to take care of veterans.
He revealed that the large forms that’s the VA, when unscrutinized and unaccountable, can’t be trusted to satisfy its easy covenant with service members: you serve your nation and we are going to present the advantages you’ve earned.
“It was a dam breaking for a brand new technology of Individuals on how they see the VA,” stated veterans advocate Paul Rieckhoff, who based the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Till these tales began to run, most of America trusted the VA, unnecessarily. So it was essential to disclose the dysfunction which, at worst, can value folks their lives.”
The VA nonetheless faces vital challenges offering care to 9 million enrolled veterans, however Drew’s reporting revealed a rot inside a forms whose mission is significant to the well being of our nation.
What stands out to me is how small the entire story began and the persistence it required.
In 2013, lengthy earlier than the revelations in Phoenix, Drew was pushing his workforce to chase down a tip in South Carolina about delayed take care of veterans on the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Hospital in Columbia.
“We didn’t know the way large it was,” Bronstein recollects, however quickly their investigation expanded, fueled by inside VA paperwork they obtained.
South Carolina wasn’t an anomaly. Veterans have been dying as they waited months and months for rudimentary care in Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and Colorado as properly.
As he pressed on, Drew confronted staunch opposition from the administration.
“We have been getting actually roadblocked by the VA,” recalled Nelli Black, a CNN senior investigative producer who additionally produced the tales. “A number of occasions they informed us we have been incorrect.”
“We have been being waved off the story,” stated Patricia DiCarlo, who’s now serves as govt producer of the investigative unit, describing how administration officers tried to avoid the investigative workforce by calling a CNN govt. “They have been doing the run-around to administration.”
However Drew stored pushing. He was, as all the time, undeterred.
The reward of Drew’s journalism was that he confirmed us who the bureaucratic purple tape was strangling. And he compelled these in energy to see it, too.
As he stated when he, graciously however maybe reluctantly, accepted the Peabody in 2015, “Our aim on this reporting wasn’t simply to make clear this drawback, we needed to have an effect on change, to carry these politicians and bureaucrats accountable. We name it conserving them trustworthy.”