WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- UPI Investigations Editor Mark Benjamin was presented Wednesday with a top journalism award for exposing problems of sick, wounded and injured U.S. soldiers, many of whom served in Iraq.
Benjamin won second place in the Raymond Clapper Memorial Awards sponsored by the Senate Press Gallery, a group of journalists accredited to cover the U.S. Congress. Only two Clapper awards are given, meaning his peers recognized Benjamin's work as one of the two best efforts by Washington print journalists last year.
"Mark Benjamin richly deserves this award," said UPI Editor Martin Walker. "In the teeth of U.S. Army obstruction -- including the detention of a UPI staff photographer -- Mark's reporting exposed the way that wounded and injured U.S. troops returning from Iraq were subject to outrageous conditions. His reports shocked the U.S. Congress -- and produced major improvements."
"UPI is the biggest comeback story in the global media today," Walker said. "UPI is back in contention with news-breaking reporting that exposes scandals and gets rules and policies changed for the better, and we're proud that Mark's reporting is leading the charge."
On Oct. 17, Benjamin broke the story that hundreds of National Guard and Reserve soldiers in medical hold at Fort Stewart, Ga., were being kept in hot cement barracks without running water while they waited, sometimes for months, for medical care. Twelve days later, he reported that similar medical conditions prevailed at Fort Knox, Ky.
The stories produced immediate, dramatic results. Army Secretary Les Brownlee flew to Fort Stewart and vowed to improve care. New doctors were quickly sent in, and within a month the barracks had been emptied as soldiers were sent to better quarters. At a U.S. House committee hearing last month, Pentagon officials said they would spend $77 million making sure the more than 100,000 troops due back from Iraq this year get better treatment.
In stories a month earlier, Benjamin was the first to link a number of U.S. non-combat illnesses and deaths in Iraq and elsewhere to possible side effects of the anthrax and smallpox vaccines. He also was the first to report a specific breakdown of non-combat illnesses and injuries, which showed that more than 20 percent of medical evacuations from Iraq were for psychiatric or neurological reasons.
Benjamin, 33, has been at UPI three years. He has spent the past two years focusing on medical and military issues.
The award was presented at the National Press Club Foundation's annual congressional dinner in Washington.
Raymond Clapper, the journalist for whom the award is named, worked for several news organizations -- including United Press.