WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- Mark Benjamin, UPI's investigations editor, has won the American Legion's top journalism award for 2004.
Benjamin won the Legion's Fourth Estate Award for his reporting last fall on the plight of hundreds of sick, wounded and injured soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga. The troops, many of whom served in Iraq, were held in hot cement barracks without running water while they waited, sometimes for months, for medical care.
"Mark Benjamin's reporting prompted the Pentagon to rush 'doctors and dollars' to Fort Stewart to provide assistance to the Army Reserve and National Guard troops awaiting treatment," the Legion said in a statement Thursday announcing the award.
"Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri credited UPI for triggering big improvements in medical care for soldiers," the Legion noted. "Benjamin also investigated and wrote on other military health issues including the nearly 4,000 U.S. troops that were medically evacuated from Operation Iraqi Freedom for non-combat reasons -- with more than one in five of those for psychiatric or neurological problems."
Benjamin's reporting on the problems at Fort Stewart, Fort Knox and elsewhere won second place earlier this year in the Raymond Clapper Memorial Awards, sponsored by the Senate Press Gallery.
"Mark Benjamin's brave and determined reporting that exclusively exposed the grim fate awaiting America's wounded Iraq War veterans when they came home takes a proud place in the grand tradition of UPI's journalism," said Editor Martin Walker. "All of us at UPI were honored when our peers in the Senate Press Gallery awarded Mark a Clapper prize this year, and now we are deeply touched that America's veterans have also recognized his outstanding work on their behalf.
"UPI's comeback is one of the most exciting media stories in America today, and Mark Benjamin is leading the way."
The Legion said that the Fourth Estate Award is "considered one of the most difficult to judge and win because it pits all media, head-to-head, vying for a single award." Recent winners include Dateline NBC, Fortune magazine and the Detroit News.
The award will be presented Sept. 2 at the Legion's annual convention in Nashville.
Robert Morrill, chairman of the Legion's Public Relations Commission, said that because of the high quality of entries, two certificates of excellence also were awarded -- to Chris Lane of KFBK-AM in Sacramento for a five-part series on America's homeless veterans; and to the European and Pacific Stars & Stripes for coverage of morale problems among soldiers fighting in Iraq.
Benjamin, 33, has been at UPI for four years and previously served as Congressional Bureau Chief.