– The Washington Times 

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Washington Times has won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for public service, one of investigative journalism’s highest honors, for its series entitled “Disposable Heroes” that disclosed the unethical treatment of war veterans during a Veterans Affairs medical experiment.

The newspaper’s 10-part series, led by reporter Audrey Hudson, began in June. It prompted letters of outrage from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and members of Congress, resulted in full-scale investigations by Congress and the Bush administration and hearings before the House Veterans Affairs committee, and ultimately produced an apology and sweeping changes inside the VA medical system.

The reporting included a gripping account of the plight of returning Iraq War veteran James Elliott, a post-traumatic stress disorder patient who engaged in a near lethal confrontation with police after suffering a psychotic episode. At the time, he had been treated by the VA with an anti-smoking drug known to cause such side effects.

View “Disposable Heroes” here

The series exposed significant ethical lapses inside the VA’s medical experiments involving informed consent of patients, monitoring of serious side-effects and other important safeguards. The agency also is investigating whether employees should be punished for the lapses.

“We are extremely honored by SPJ’s recognition of this project and believe it is a great reminder that original newspaper reporting remains an important staple of American life even in tough economic times,” said John Solomon, executive editor of The Times.

“We also know the biggest prize of all comes in knowing that that our war heroes and veterans enrolled in future medical experiments at the VA will face much better safeguards than those in place when Mr. Elliott suffered his unfortunate incident.”

The annual award, specifically among newspapers with a circulation of less than 100,000, is based on stringent criteria, including “evidence of courage and initiative in overcoming opposition” along with tangible results, according to the SPJ. This year, the award drew 900 entries in 53 categories.

“The Washington Times made a significant investment to take a watchdog role and ensure the government takes care of these brave men and women who are worthy of our deepest gratitude and highest respect,” Mrs. Hudson said.

“I am humbled and honored to be a part of this team investigation that has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists,” Mrs. Hudson said. “We are committed to standing up in our reporting for those who have no voice, which is the highest value of journalism, and a tradition at our paper.”