WisconsinWeekly: Leading on lead, mistreatment of veterans, false confessions

MI adopts toughest lead rules, veterans and VA whistleblowers abused, immigrant child separated from her mother speaks out

Of note: This week we highlight some stories you may have missed with the controversy swirling around the Trump Administration’s policy — since rescinded — to separate immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Michigan passed the toughest rules in the United States aimed at reducing lead in drinking water.

Former WCIJ intern Sara Jerving exposes a government-backed insurance program that is ripping off disabled veterans. “Making a Murderer” defendant Brendan Dassey asks the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on his allegedly false and coerced confession. Whistleblowers at the Veterans Administration report rampant retaliation. And an immigrant tells what it was like to be separated from her mother at the border — 30 years ago.

WisconsinWeekly is produced by Dee and Andy Hall, a couple who founded the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Andy is the executive director and Dee is the managing editor.

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Michigan adopts strictest lead water rules in the United States

Reuters — June 14, 2018

Michigan adopted the strictest U.S. rules to guard against lead in drinking water, a move sparked by the Flint water crisis that exposed thousands of city residents to the toxic metal. “As a state, we could no longer afford to wait on needed changes at the federal level, so Michigan has stepped up to give our residents a smarter, safer rule,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement.  Previously from WCIJ: Lead in drinking water poses danger for children, pregnant women

Veterans owe thousands for survivor benefits. Why can’t they opt out?

The New York Times Magazine — June 20, 2018

From former WCIJ intern Sara Jerving, The New York Times Magazine reports on the Survivor Benefit Plan, a Defense Department program similar to life insurance, which affects more than 19,000 retired disabled veterans. For some, these deductions are a financial strain, which is compounded by the thousands of dollars the government says they owe in back payments and interest charges. Jerving has been looking out for vulnerable people for a long time: Hope and benefits are running out for Rock County jobless.

Teen in ‘Making a Murderer’ asks high court to take his case

AP — June 21, 2018

Brendan Dassey admitted he joined his uncle in raping and murdering a young woman before burning her body in a bonfire. But this confession, which was seen by viewers nationwide as part of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” should never have been used to convict him, his lawyers say, and they’re hoping the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take his case. “This case is emblematic of this larger problem of false confessions and coerced confessions,” said Laura Nirider, one of Dassey’s lawyers. Earlier from WCIJ: Common interrogation technique suspected of causing false confessions

For VA whistleblowers, a culture of fear and retaliation

NPR — June 21, 2018

In a NPR investigation, where reporters interviewed more than 30 current and former Veterans Administration employees, including doctors, nurses and administrators, all described an entrenched management culture that uses fear and intimidation to prevent potential whistleblowers from talking. Mistreatment of whistleblowers is not confined to the VA. Read more about Wisconsin’s anemic whistleblower system in WCIJ’s Broken Whistle series.

What it feels like to be separated at the border

The Washington Post — June 20, 2018

Victoria Smolkin describes her experience being separated from her mother as her family escaped the Soviet Union in 1988. When her mother was detained for allegedly smuggling a diamond brooch (it was actually crystal), the 8-year-old Victoria was left traumatized by the separation. The next morning, “The hair on the right side of my head had fallen out, leaving a huge bald patch — a symptom of intense nervous stress, I learned later. My mother was released the next day. I don’t remember much of the rest of that trip, or of the next several months. In fact, I’ve been trying not to remember for the past 30 years.”

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