DENVER (AP) – A Gazette journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting Monday said he hopes the honor will bring even more attention to traumatized combat veterans across the country who are struggling like the men he wrote about in Colorado Springs.
Dave Philipps’ series, “Other than Honorable,” focused on how the Army was discharging veterans, many of them with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, for misconduct. Their brain injuries made them more likely to get into trouble, but the discharges left them without lifetime military medical benefits to help them treat their injuries.
Philipps found that 13,000 veterans were discharged since 2006 under a provision called Chapter 10 – resignation in lieu of prosecution – also known as an other-than-honorable discharge.
Philipps, a native of Colorado Springs, has worked at The Gazette for 10 years. He was a Pulitzer finalist in 2010 for his series, “Casualties of War,” about Fort Carson combat soldiers returning home from Iraq and committing crimes in the area, home to more than 50,000 combat troops.
Philipps was reached by telephone during a stopover as he traveled back to Colorado Springs from Washington, D.C., Monday. He said he learned of his prize moments before boarding his first flight and called the newsroom to share in the celebrations. He had not had time to speak to any of the three men on whom he focused for his story, veterans with whom he keeps in regular touch. Since his stories were published, he said he has heard from veterans across the country with similar experiences.
“I hope that the new exposure causes Congress to take another look at this issue,” Philipps said, adding that the military still had work to do to understand the problem.
The series led U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., to initiate congressional hearings into the issue. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced a bill calling for a Government Accountability Office investigation.
Joe Hight, editor of The Gazette, said it can be difficult to report critically on the military in a community surrounded by military installations, with a readership that includes active and retired service members. But he said while reaction to Philipps’ articles included questioning of how much the soldiers involved had suffered as a result of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, high-ranking officers also said the stories showed soldiers needed help.
“That’s why journalism is still needed in our society,” Hight said.
Hight said one of the subjects of the stories has since gotten benefits from Veterans Affairs and is off the streets. The man had been homeless, and in and out of emergency rooms because of seizures he started suffering after being injured by a roadside bomb.
Hight cited other stories by Philipps, including his revelation of a secret network of cadet informants at the Air Force Academy that reported on misconduct among students.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who really appreciate the watchdog reporting we’ve done on the military,” Hight said.
Hight said key members of the team behind the story, including Managing Editor Joanna Bean and photographer Michael Ciaglo, shared a bottle of champagne.
“It’s a great day here, and hopefully it will be a great day someday for these soldiers,” Hight said.
– By DONNA BRYSON, Associated Press
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