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Reveal: Failing America's Veterans

Two years ago, the system that provides American veterans with health care was rocked by scandal when whistleblowers told the world that vets were dying while the Phoenix VA concealed them on a secret waiting list. Reveal revisits the scandal, then investigates what happened next, examining how a national effort to get veterans faster care turned Alaska’s homegrown health care system upside down, and how a deeply troubled VA hospital in Cincinnati responded to its own scandal by blaming the messengers.

In our first segment, we ask: What makes a person risk her job, her reputation and even her freedom to do the right thing? Dr. Katherine Mitchell tells Reveal how frightened she was putting it all on the line. But she did it because she knew that in Phoenix, veterans were dying while waiting for care. It was a revelation that would ignite national outcry.

We follow what happened next: Congress acted swiftly, pushing through a sweeping reform bill.

At its center was a new $10 billion program called Veterans Choice, which promised to reduce wait times by giving veterans easier access to private health care providers – outside of the VA system. Independent reporter Lee Romney and Reveal's Stan Alcorn travel to Alaska and find that not only has Choice struggled nationally, but in Alaska, it pulled the rug out from under a successful solution to the problem.

Phoenix and Alaska aren't the only places the Department of Veterans Affairs is falling short. In Cincinnati, bone and blood were found lodged into surgical instruments. Entire departments – such as neurosurgery and orthopedics – were severely downsized. Scripps senior national investigative correspondent Mark Greenblatt heard from more than three dozen employees who were so outraged that they went public.

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

For more, check out our website and subscribe to our podcast.

Julia B. Chan is the digital editor for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.