Is the Army Working to Deny Benefits to Veterans?

And other great watchdog journalism from this week.

Fusion is investigating whether Army veterans are being denied changes to their discharge status that would help them receive medical benefits.

Photo by Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images

Here are this week’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly.

Is this board “bending over backward” to protect the Army? The Board for Correction of Military Records is where Army veterans may  go to change their records. It’s charged with correcting “errors” and removing “injustices.” Many of the cases involve soldiers appealing their discharge status—and some of these cases have left  veterans without medical benefits for service-related injuries. An investigation by Fusion found “that when service members file appeals that could lay significant blame on the Army or cost a lot of money, the default answer is often no.” About 5 percent of veterans from 2001 to 2012 were able to change their discharge reason and only 2 percent were granted a medical evaluation that could add benefits.—Fusion via @alissafig and @alicitabrennan

Racial profiling—hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The Border Patrol’s authority is nearly unlimited in the areas in covers. Even 100 miles out, considered “a reasonable distance,” agents can make warrantless stops. A report from the Austin American-Statesman found that between 2005 and 2013, the Border Patrol apprehended more than 40,000 subjects at nine of the most inland patrol stations—as far away as 350 miles from Mexico. Critics say these interior patrols lead to racial profiling and unconstitutional stops of legal residents. And these stops, the Border Patrol says, aren’t tracked. — The Austin American-Statesman via @JinATX

Is prison labor “slavery” or “rehabilitation”? It depends on whom you ask. For the state of California, however, it means more than 4,400 mostly “nonviolent” inmates are on the ground fighting wildland fires for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This workforce saves California more than $1 billion a year. But as the appetite—and policy—for keeping nonviolent offenders locked up for extended periods of time diminishes and fires increase in a very dry state, California will need to make a choice: “Pay full price for its firefighting workforce, or send more violent inmates out into the wilderness with powerful tools and very little security.” — BuzzFeedNews via @Hanqing

JPMorgan Chase paid $9 billion to keep secrets from you. Alayne Fleischmann had a front row seat to the financial crisis as a deal manager for the bank in 2006. For years, she tried to speak up about one of America’s biggest cases of white-collar crime. That, as Matt Taibbi writes, made her a bargaining chip that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department used to up the ante—from $3 billion to $9 billion—that JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon was willing to pay to keep what she knew out of the public sphere. “It felt like I was trying to keep this secret and my body was literally rejecting it,” she says.—Rolling Stone via @omar_sX3

A $65 screw in your back that shouldn’t be there. While the chief executive of Spinal Solutions rubbed elbows with celebrities courtside at Los Angeles Lakers games, his company’s hardware—which doctors were inserting into the backs of spinal fusion patients—appears to have been, in part, counterfeit. These allegedly fake screws maybe have been part of a larger scheme to bilk California’s workers’ compensation system. The FDA was alerted in 2011 to the alleged malfeasance. And the company did shut down, but because of its debts, not the fake screws.—The Center for Investigative Reporting via @JewettCIR and @jennifergollan