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Before they get to work on reforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Congress and the White House might want to take a closer look at the last time they tried it — a $16 billion fix called the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, designed to get veterans medical care more quickly.

NPR and local member stations have been following that money, including the $10 billion for vets to get care outside the VA system. The Choice Act also channeled about $2.5 billion for hiring more doctors, nurses and other medical staff at VA medical centers.

The goal of the hiring money was to address a simple math problem. The number of veterans coming to the VA has shot up in recent years, and the number of medical staff has not kept pace. The idea was that more caregivers would cut wait times.

But an investigation by NPR and local member stations found that: the VA has about the same number of new hires as the VA would have been projected to hire without the additional $2.5 billion; the new hires weren’t sent to VA hospitals with the longest wait times; and the VA medical centers that got new hires were not more likely to see improved wait times.

VA Hospitals Still Struggling With Adding Staff Despite Billions From Choice Act

Graphic: Brittany Mayes and Stephan Bisaha/NPR

More than 30 years ago, Congress overwhelmingly passed a landmark health bill aimed at motivating pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs for people whose rare diseases had been ignored.

By the drugmakers’ calculations, the markets for such diseases weren’t big enough to bother with.

But lucrative financial incentives created by the Orphan Drug Act signed into law by President Reagan in 1983 succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations. More than 200 companies have brought almost 450 so-called orphan drugs to market since the law took effect.

Yet a Kaiser Health News investigation shows that the system intended to help desperate patients is being manipulated by drugmakers to maximize profits and to protect niche markets for medicines already being taken by millions. The companies aren’t breaking the law but they are using the Orphan Drug Act to their advantage in ways that its architects say they didn’t foresee or intend. Today, many orphan medicines, originally developed to treat diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people, come with astronomical price tags.

Drugs For Rare Diseases Have Become Uncommonly Rich Monopolies

Graphic: NPR and Kaiser Health News

Lupita Ramirez dresses her husband, Joel, at their home in Rialto, Calif. Joel was paralyzed from the waist down after being crushed by a pallet when he was working in a warehouse. 

Over the past decade, states have slashed workers’ compensation benefits, denying injured workers help when they need it most and shifting the costs of workplace accidents to taxpayers.

Injured Workers Suffer As ‘Reforms’ Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Photo credit: Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica

This story was reported in partnership between NPR News Investigations and ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization.

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After residents of Tonawanda, N.Y., became sick, they rallied to fight high levels of hazardous chemicals emitting from a dilapidated plant. In doing so, they revealed weaknesses in the way the EPA regulates air pollution. Video Credit: John Poole / NPR

Want to know if  plants in your town are a health risk? Zoom in on our interactive map.

Poisoned Places, a four-part series from NPR News Investigations and The Center for Public Integrity.

Charles “Lindy” Cavell could never forget what the U.S. military tried to hide. Cavell fought to bring to light the secret mustard gas testing program he had participated in during World War II and for VA compensation for the test subjects. He died at home Wednesday at 89.

Cavell was featured prominently in an NPR investigation last year that found the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to notify mustard gas test subjects — who had been sworn to secrecy about the testing — of their eligibility for compensation, and routinely denied help to those who qualified for it.

During the last year of his life, Cavell was finally granted additional benefits and some back pay after a 26-year battle with the VA, according to his daughter, Linda Smith.

“I think he felt like he had finally accomplished something, and he was relieved that other service members were being recognized” as a result of the stories he was featured in, Smith said.

WWII Veteran, Who Fought To Expose Secret Mustard Gas Experiments, Dies

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/NPR