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Nikki Wentling

Nikki Wentling covers veterans for Stars and Stripes and is based in Washington, D.C. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor of science in news and information.

Wentling previously covered local government for the Lawrence Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan. and military and veterans for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Ark.

Email: wentling.nikki@stripes.com | Phone: (202) 761-0865 | Twitter: @nikkiwentling



Vets group calls on DOD, VA to help stop fake news targeting veterans, troops

Vietnam Veterans of America is working to find and stop social media pages that target veterans and servicemembers with sensationalized news and hyper-partisan political content.

Wilkie won’t share documents that could reveal extent of Mar-a-Lago influence on VA

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said he will not hand over information to Congress that could help reveal the extent three members of President Donald Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla. have influenced veterans policies.


Marine veteran among those killed in New York limo crash

Michael Ukaj, a former combat engineer in the Marine Corps, is being remembered as an honest and caring individual always ready to give advice to his friends and family. He was one of 20 people killed when a limo sped through a stop sign and slammed into a parked SUV in Schoharie, N.Y., on Saturday.


Student veterans, schools frustrated over lack of housing payments from VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged technical issues are causing 340,000 student veterans to receive incorrect housing stipends to begin the new school year, but now lawmakers and advocates contend the problem is bigger – many veterans are not receiving the payments at all.


Senator: VA missed deadline to inform vets with 'bad paper' about access to mental health care

The Honor Our Commitment Act, approved as part of large appropriations bill in March, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with mental health screenings and care, even if they received other-than-honorable discharges.


VA releases 2018 performance ratings for its hospitals

The fiscal 2018 ratings include nine one-star hospitals, the lowest possible, down from 14 hospitals that received one-star ratings in 2017. The ratings indicate each hospital’s quality of care and are based on data such as death rates, patient satisfaction and efficiency.


Veterans group places thousands of flags on National Mall to draw attention to suicide crisis

The flags were placed on the Mall by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, an advocacy group trying to draw awareness to the issue of veteran suicide.


Afghan War vet ends bid for Kansas City mayor, citing PTSD and depression

Jason Kander, an Afghanistan War veteran widely praised as a rising star in the Democratic party, withdrew Tuesday from the Kansas City, Mo., mayoral race to seek help for depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Marine veteran loved to fix things — but the VA offered no plan for him to help himself

When Justin Miller left the Minneapolis VA hospital, he was marked at “moderate risk” for suicide. He left without a follow-up appointment for his newly prescribed antidepressants. Staff wasn’t sure whether he had access to firearms, and there was no documentation that they reached out to his family to try to engage them in his treatment.


VA secretary Wilkie denies connection to ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’

Shortly after new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie was confirmed as secretary in June, news reports revealed a trio of wealthy Mar-a-Lago members had been exerting major influence over Trump’s veterans policies.


VA report: Suicide rate among younger veterans increased from 2015 to 2016

The number of suicides among younger veterans increased “substantially” from 2015 to 2016, according to a new report to be released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Watchdog found deficiencies in care for veteran who committed suicide in Minneapolis VA parking lot

The Office of Inspector General reported Tuesday that VA staff didn’t collaborate on a discharge plan for the veteran, didn’t ensure the veteran had a follow-up appointment about newly prescribed antidepressants, and didn’t adequately document whether they had access to firearms.


Wilkie's first hearing as VA secretary: Four issues he's likely to address

Robert Wilkie is slated to appear before lawmakers this week for the first time since he took over as Veterans Affairs secretary and senators are expected to ask him about his plans for implementing several major, congressionally mandated reforms.


Plan to build Vietnam War education center on the National Mall is abandoned

An effort to establish a Vietnam War education center on the National Mall was abandoned Friday after 17 years of planning and $23 million in donations already spent.


Trump signs $200 billion VA budget for 2019

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs that for the first time exceeds more than $200 billion.


Former VA secretaries join fight over Agent Orange benefits for Blue Water Navy vets

Five former Department of Veterans Affairs secretaries and more than two dozen veterans groups joined the fight this week over legislation that would extend Agent Orange benefits to tens of thousands of Navy veterans who served on ships off the coast during the Vietnam War.


Pence: Returned remains of US war dead a ‘vanguard of what’s to come’

Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday he hoped the 55 cases of Korean War remains returned last month would be a “vanguard of what’s to come,” for on-the-ground searches in North Korea for more missing American servicemembers.


Students using GI Bill receive incorrect housing payments due to VA technical errors

Veterans who started the 2018-2019 school year last month received incorrect payments caused by delays at the VA Office of Information and Technology with complying to new rules on how stipends are calculated.


In North Carolina, flooding from Florence closes VA clinics, counseling centers, cemeteries

Two Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in southeastern North Carolina will remain closed until next week due to the catastrophic flooding that continues to cripple the area days after Hurricane Florence first made landfall.


VA cites improvements at five hospitals removed from 'high-risk' list

Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Georgia, Texas, Oregon Tennessee and Colorado were removed from high-risk status based on new performance statistics released Tuesday.


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Thousands of troops prepare for Hurricane Florence search and rescue

Officials said 4,000 National Guard troops and another 3,000 active-duty servicemembers were in position to respond to Hurricane Florence, with thousands more ready as a secondary relief force.


VA hospital in Virginia evacuates patients ahead of hurricane, 18 clinics close

More than 200 veterans receiving treatment at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in coastal Virginia were loaded onto buses Wednesday afternoon and dispersed among five other VA hospitals throughout Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.


VA process to verify veteran-owned small businesses fraught with errors, delays

Veterans who own small businesses can get verified through the Department of Veterans Affairs, making them eligible for VA contracts and subcontracts — but efforts to improve the verification system have backfired, leading to delays and frustration.


Mission Act gets funding under historically high VA budget agreement

After a dispute delayed negotiations on the Department of Veterans Affairs budget for fiscal 2019, lawmakers came to an agreement Monday for more than $200 billion for the agency that includes funding for the new VA Mission Act – legislation that expands private-sector medical care for veterans.


Wilkie opposes bill that would extend Agent Orange benefits to 'Blue Water' veterans

New Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie urged senators in a letter Friday to reject legislation that would make health care and disability compensation available to approximately 90,000 “Blue Water” Navy veterans – those sailors aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships who contend they were exposed to Agent Orange.


Measure to let VA doctors recommend marijuana was again left out of budget bill

A measure to allow doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend marijuana in states where it’s medically legal failed to make it into the final version of a VA funding bill for the third consecutive year.


Inspector general finds VA claims backlog greater than reported

The VA considers backlogged claims to be veterans’ claims for benefits that take longer than 125 days to approve or deny. The VA Inspector General’s Office reported officials omitted 63,600 backlogged claims from its count during the first half of 2016, creating a misrepresentation of how many claims were delayed.


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Arlington National Cemetery opens 27-acre expansion with burial of two Civil War veterans

The expansion will keep the cemetery – long viewed as a shrine to America’s fallen heroes – viable for about 10 years longer than expected. Plans for the new space, titled the Millennium Project, have been in the works since Bill Clinton was president in 1990s.


Legislation seeks to allow battlefield crosses in national cemeteries

Lawmakers on Wednesday considered a bill to force the National Cemetery Administration to allow battlefield crosses, following the controversial removal of the grave markers from three veterans cemeteries last year.


Delays in Forever GI Bill implementation could affect veterans’ checks

Student veterans starting the 2018-2019 school year could receive incorrect housing payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs because the agency missed a deadline to fully implement changes to how the checks are calculated, lawmakers and veteran advocates said Wednesday.


Lawmakers ask VA secretary to research marijuana as an alternative to opioids

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, lawmakers asked the VA to initiate a “rigorous clinical trial” of the drug. In recent years, more veterans have come out in support of marijuana as a potential alternative to addictive opioids.


Pence: Trump is a 'champion,' 'ally' to veterans

Speaking to hundreds of American Legion members on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence lauded President Donald Trump as a champion to veterans and listed off a series of what he described as major achievements under his administration.


American Legion’s influence with the VA questioned at annual convention

For 100 years, the American Legion has been a voice for veterans in Washington, influencing government policy on veterans’ health care, education and national security. But at its national convention this week doubts about its influence emerged.


Lawmakers, advocates call for change after VA mishandled military sexual trauma claims

Some lawmakers and veteran advocates are calling for more change to how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles claims of sexual trauma in the military after it was discovered the agency denied benefits to hundreds of veterans without due diligence.


Leader of VA electronic health record project resigns, prompts concern

Genevieve Morris was selected to lead a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs' electronic health records. She resigned Friday, citing differences with VA leadership.


VA considers ending ban on transgender surgeries for disabled vets

Since 1999, the VA has excluded “gender alterations” from its medical benefits package. For another two weeks, the VA is taking comments about a proposal to remove that ban for veterans who have a high enough disability rating to qualify them for comprehensive medical care from the VA.


Arlington National Cemetery reopens to public after bomb threat

Arlington National Cemetery reopened Wednesday after a bomb threat forced officials to close the facility to the public for about four hours. Despite the cemetery’s closure, funerals still took place as scheduled.


IG finds the VA wrongly denies benefits to victims of military sexual trauma

The Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly denies benefits to thousands of veterans claiming they suffer from military sexual trauma, potentially causing stress and psychological harm, a government watchdog reported Tuesday.


Video/Gallery

Forging ahead: Bladesmithing gives troops, vets and caregivers a chance to bond, heal

“If these men and women are having a bad day, they can come in here, rant, rave, curse, scream, holler – you name it – and we all understand,” Donna Porras said. “We might not have been in their shoes, but we understand.”


IG report: Veteran caregivers face long waits for VA assistance

Last year, lawmakers demanded the VA inspector general investigate the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program following news reports of the VA dropping veterans from the program with little notice.


Veterans group sues VA over ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’

VoteVets, a liberal advocacy group, filed a lawsuit Thursday aimed at preventing three wealthy members of President Donald Trump’s private club in Florida from influencing decisions at Veterans Affairs. The suit is a response to a news report that revealed the three were exerting major influence over the VA and secretly shaping Trump’s veterans policies.


Stern of US destroyer found near Alaska as researchers map little-known campaign of WWII

Researchers are hoping the discovery of the USS Abner Read brings some awareness about the Aleutian Islands campaign to the American public. For families of the sailors who died, they want the finding to offer some solace.


Remains from North Korea in moderate to poor condition, could take years to identify

“The mettle of our scientists and the capabilities of our labs will be challenged, but in the months and years ahead, they will make identifications from these remains and give families long-sought answers,” said Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Director Kelly McKeague.


VA shuffles several leadership posts; embattled former acting secretary retained as senior adviser

Peter O’Rourke, who became embroiled in multiple controversies during his short time as acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will stay on as a senior adviser to new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the VA announced Monday.


Democrats, vets groups respond to report of ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ secretly influencing VA

A shadowy trio of wealthy members of President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., are effectively running the Department of Veterans Affairs in secret, according to a news report published Tuesday.


VA secretary to announce new leader for DC hospital

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who’s been on the job for one week, visited the Washington DC VA Medical Center on Monday to meet with hospital leaders. In a statement after his visit, the VA announced it found a new leader for the facility who will begin work “in the near future.”


DEA’s lack of action to license marijuana growers threatens next phase of PTSD study

In the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced it would license more growers to produce marijuana for scientific research – a decision that was meant to facilitate research into the drug. Nearly two years later, federal authorities haven’t approved or denied any applications.


Senate passes measure to extend commissary, exchange privileges to more veterans

All Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war and veterans with disabilities connected to their military service, as well as veteran caregivers, would be eligible to shop at commissaries, according to the legislation.


VA raises opposition to bill extending benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans

Department of Veterans Affairs officials urged senators Wednesday to vote against legislation that would extend VA benefits to sailors who served off the coast during the Vietnam War and claim their illnesses were caused by exposure to Agent Orange.


Memo: VA finds 'deteriorating' conditions at DC hospital

After being deemed high risk in January, the flagship Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington has continued to deteriorate in quality during the first six months of 2018.


Veterans gun reform group urges government to continue ban on 3-D printed guns

The Veterans Advisory Council for Everytown for Gun Safety described the printable, hard-to-trace guns as a threat to national security and public safety.


Robert Wilkie officially sworn in as 10th VA secretary

Robert Wilkie is now in charge of the second-largest federal agency, with more than 360,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $200 billion.


House approves bill allowing deployed troops to cancel cable, Internet contracts

Another measure would create a fourth division within the Department of Veterans Affairs focused on economic opportunity – an idea that began gaining momentum in the spring.


2 years after Trump promised a White House veterans hotline, it’s open – in West Virginia

President Donald Trump vowed two years ago to create a White House hotline for veterans, promising them attention and action from the highest levels of government. A hotline was established, but its connection to the White House is in name only.


Democrats call on Sessions to investigate acting VA secretary for perjury

Three Democrats on Thursday called on the Justice Department to investigate whether the acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs lied during testimony to a congressional committee.


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Veterans, VA employees rally against Trump’s workforce orders

The executive orders, which went into effect this month, limit union employees’ ability to use official time, shorten collective bargaining negotiations and encourage agencies to fire employees, instead of merely disciplining them.


Trump's VFW remarks go from praise to politics

President Donald Trump spoke to about 4,000 veterans gathered in Kansas City, Mo., for the VFW’s annual national convention, telling the crowd about his commitment to rebuild the military and improve care for veterans.


VA employee advocates, lawmakers contend new law targets low-level workers and whistleblowers

The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was approved a year ago by Congress and heralded by President Donald Trump as a fix-all to root out a culture of corruption at the VA.


Senators introduce bill to extend commissary, exchange privileges to more veterans

Currently, access to discounted on-base stores is now limited to active-duty troops, members of the National Guard and Reserve, military retirees, family members and some veterans.


New congressional subcommittee will oversee VA’s $10B deal to overhaul its health records

The VA signed a contract with Cerner Corp. in May to overhaul its health record system and make it compatible with the Defense Department. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the project because of previous failed attempts by the VA and DOD to merge their systems.


Health care administrators remedy problem for veteran faced with $30,000 medical bill

Bob Hart uses the VA Choice program to receive medical care at a private hospital close to his home near Jacksonville, Ill. He was informed several weeks ago that he owed the hospital for treatment he thought the VA covered.


VA secretary nominee Wilkie is approved by Senate committee

Robert Wilkie, the latest choice by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, was easily approved Tuesday by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, moving his nomination to a vote by the full Senate.


Veteran using VA Choice program could get stuck with $30,000 medical bill

Bob Hart, a 73-year-old farmer in central Illinois, always pays his bills. But that changed when the Vietnam War veteran was informed he owed $30,000 for medical treatment he thought the Department of Veterans Affairs covered.


Leader at Connecticut VFW post resigns after being outed as former KKK member

Scott E. Palmer, the former vice commander of VFW Post 591 in Wallingford, Conn., was one of multiple KKK members arrested in the mid-1990s during investigations into a rising number of hate crimes in the area.


White House reaffirms its commitment to jobs for military spouses

The unemployment rate for military spouses is about 16 percent – quadruple the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. Experts cite challenges such as frequent moves, often with little notice, as well as barriers created by differences in professional licensing requirements state to state.


VA secretary nominee Robert Wilkie is headed for confirmation

If confirmed by the Senate, Robert Wilkie will take over the second-largest federal agency, with a nearly $200 billion budget and 375,000 employees. He’ll be tasked with leading implementation of a massive VA reform bill Congress passed this month to overhaul the VA’s private-sector care programs.


House approves benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans

The House unanimously passed legislation Monday that would extend Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to approximately 90,000 sailors who served off the coast during the Vietnam War, some of whom have been fighting for years to prove their illnesses were caused by exposure to Agent Orange.


Vets with bladder cancer could wait years for government to recognize Agent Orange link

In the past nine years, Vietnam War veteran Robert Lytle has undergone three surgeries. Doctors removed eight malignant tumors from his bladder. The Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his requests for disability compensation three times.


National Mall site selected as location of national Gulf War memorial

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts voted to place the memorial on one-quarter acre at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, a decision celebrated by supporters who advocated for a spot on the National Mall during the three-year site selection process.


VA reveals its veteran suicide statistic included active-duty troops

The VA released its newest National Suicide Data Report on Monday, which includes data from 2005 through 2015. Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population, particularly among women.


VA inspector general accuses acting VA secretary of concealing information

The rift was revealed this week when Inspector General Michael Missal sought help from Congress to obtain information that he argues VA leaders have been unlawfully withholding for months.


Democrats call for investigation after VA fails to share information on new disciplinary law

Democrats are calling for an investigation into a one-year-old law that gave Department of Veterans Affairs leaders more power to discipline employees, citing a lack of transparency from the agency about how it’s being put to use.


VA hospitals across the country have more than 3,000 unwanted jobs

Thousands of jobs at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country remain vacant because VA leaders contend they can’t find qualified candidates who want them, an agency report released Thursday revealed.


VA discloses rankings of 133 nursing homes

Of the 133 VA nursing homes listed, 34 earned five-star ratings overall, the highest given. Eleven had 1-star ratings, the lowest. The VA posted the performance ratings onto its website Tuesday and said it would update the information annually.


LinkedIn to give free premium membership to military spouses

Through a partnership with the Defense Department, LinkedIn will expand its program for veterans and servicemembers to include spouses. The program will also travel alongside families as they move from base to base.


Veterans group urges Trump to push North Korea for recovery of Korean War-era remains

One nationwide veterans organization hopes when President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, he’ll push for the recovery of remains of American servicemembers killed during the Korean War.