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

NDAA would add three conditions to VA list of illnesses caused by Agent Orange

The final version includes a measure that would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

Top Democrat accuses Air Force of interfering in Georgia runoff elections

Rep. Adam Smith suggested the Air Force preemptively announced its preferred locations for a C-130J operating base, saying the timing “raises serious concerns” about the potential influence two Senate runoff elections in Georgia.

Arlington National Cemetery announces revised plans for Wreaths Across America

Arlington National Cemetery will close to the public from Dec. 13 to 19 to allow Christmas wreaths to be placed at 267,000 graves, officials announced Wednesday.

Senators urge Pentagon to test all service members, families for coronavirus

Two U.S. senators are urging the Defense Department to test all service members and their families for the coronavirus in order to contain outbreaks in the military and limit the threat to national security.

Lawmakers call on VA to release a vaccine distribution plan

The Department of Veterans Affairs has not yet publicized a strategy to distribute coronavirus vaccines to its patients and staff once one has been approved, leading some lawmakers to worry that the department has fallen behind states and other federal agencies.

Coronavirus cases among VA patients surpass 13,000

As of Monday, 4,584 veterans had died of the virus — up 12% since the beginning of the month. In addition, 69 VA employees have died, five of them in the past 20 days.

Crisis Line failed to help veteran who died hours after calling, watchdog finds

The veteran died from an overdose on July 4, 2018. Two crisis line responders spoke to the veteran that day but failed to consider his or her risk for overdose and didn’t contact local authorities.

Army agrees to review thousands of 'bad paper' discharges as part of lawsuit settlement

As part of a lawsuit settlement reached Tuesday, the U.S. Army would be required to review and potentially upgrade thousands of other-than-honorable discharges dating back to April 2011.

In reversal, Arlington National Cemetery will host Wreaths Across America event

Arlington National Cemetery will take part in the Wreaths Across America event this year, despite an announcement Monday that the cemetery would abstain from the tradition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

VA tracks suicides among its patients during pandemic, finds no increase

Since the pandemic struck the United States in March, there hasn’t been an increase in suicides or suicide attempts among its patients or visits to VA emergency rooms that were related to suicide attempts, the department said.

Veteran suicides increased again in 2018

The VA compiles its data on a two-year lag and revealed for the first time Thursday the number of suicides in 2018. The average number of veteran suicides increased slightly from 17.5 each day in 2017 to 17.6 in 2018.

Celebrate Veterans Day virtually

Veterans Day typically draws crowds of visitors to the nation’s capital and to events held across the country. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, celebrations this year will look different.

Pandemic prompts change to list of best cities for veterans

Charleston, South Carolina, is the best city for veterans to live in when they leave the military, according to new rankings released Monday by Navy Federal Credit Union.

VA is seeking minority veterans for coronavirus vaccine trials

Several VA hospitals announced this week they were selected to run trials for a vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, part of Johnson & Johnson.

Coronavirus cases among VA patients reach an all-time high

Nearly 6,900 Department of Veterans Affairs patients were battling coronavirus infections Thursday — a record-breaking number of cases for the department.

Number of veterans serving in Congress could slightly decrease after election

Less than half of the 182 veterans running for Congress in Tuesday’s election were declared winners in their races by Wednesday morning — incomplete results that appear likely to mean the overall number of veterans in Congress would keep steady or slightly decrease.

More than 4,000 VA patients have died from coronavirus

As of Monday morning, the VA reported 4,017 deaths among VA patients, with 1,000 of those deaths in the past two months.

Senator: VA is 'playing political games' by withholding veteran suicide report

VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said Friday the report would be released "in the next few weeks." The report was delayed because the department plans to include "a variety of COVID-related data," she said.

Interior Department grants lifetime free access to National Parks for veterans, Gold Star families

Veterans and Gold Star families will be given free lifetime entry into national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands starting on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Owner of technical training school sentenced for defrauding VA out of GI Bill money

A school owner who defrauded the Department of Veterans Affairs out of $30 million in GI Bill benefits was sentenced this week to nearly four years in prison.

Report: Veterans Crisis Line 'remarkably successful' at handling increase in calls at start of pandemic

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line hit a high point in March as the coronavirus pandemic altered everyday life in the U.S. Despite the increase in calls and a shift to teleworking, responders met all their performance standards.

Senate Democrats claim Trump’s 2018 veteran suicide prevention order was never implemented

Thirty senators criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday for failing to implement promises made nearly three years ago through an executive order that President Donald Trump signed to combat veteran suicide.

VA plans to outsource all compensation and pension exams

The Department of Veterans Affairs is eliminating its in-house compensation and pension exam program and will outsource all of the exams, which are crucial to determining whether veterans are eligible for VA benefits.

Promotion rates an issue as VA, union spar over treatment of Black employees

White employees who applied for management positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs were promoted at twice the rate of Black workers, according to VA data released last week.

Trump signs veteran suicide prevention measures into law

President Donald Trump has signed a bill into law that contains dozens of methods to prevent suicide among veterans, including measures to boost mental health research and staffing at the VA and establish a grant program for state and local groups.

Democrats accuse VA secretary of misusing resources to campaign for Trump, other Republicans

Two Democrats accused Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday of using department resources to campaign for the reelection of President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates.

First monument honoring all military women to be unveiled at Arlington

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial, at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, is regularly placed on lists of “hidden gems” within the nation’s capital — a perspective on the memorial that its leaders are trying to change.

Protections for GI Bill benefits are extended into the next school year

Congress approved a measure last week that will ensure student veterans continue to receive full GI Bill benefits into the next school year, even as many classes have gone online-only in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

VA failed to set a wait-time goal for its new community care program, GAO says

The Department of Veterans Affairs never established a maximum amount of time veterans should have to wait to see private-sector doctors through the agency’s new community care program, an independent watchdog reported this week.

Congress approves major bill aiming to prevent veteran suicides

The House passed sweeping bipartisan legislation Wednesday that would give up to $174 million during the next five years to state and local organizations that provide suicide-prevention services to veterans and their families.

House approves bill ordering VA to change gender-exclusive motto

The Honoring All Veterans Act would change the VA's motto to read, “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

House and Senate lawmakers reach agreement to pass sweeping veteran suicide prevention bills

Omitted from one bill was a measure that would require all VA employees to receive safety training to help reduce veterans’ access to firearms and medication by using safe-storage techniques.

House to vote on ‘transformational’ change for reporting military sexual assault

The "I Am Vanessa Guillen Act" would create new procedures for service members to report instances of sexual harassment and assault in confidence and outside of their chain of command.

Eisenhower memorial in DC to be unveiled

The long-awaited presidential memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower will be dedicated and unveiled in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17 – more than 20 years after Congress commissioned it.

Arlington National Cemetery gravesites will reopen to the public this week

Starting Wednesday, the public will be allowed into Arlington National Cemetery to visit gravesites every day from 8 a.m. to noon, but some points of interest inside the cemetery will remain closed.

More than 3,000 VA patients have now died from the coronavirus

The Department of Veterans Affairs hit a bleak milestone Friday when it reported the coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 of its patients.

Veteran died by suicide after not receiving needed care at Memphis VA, IG report says 

The unidentified veteran sought treatment at the Memphis VA Medical Center in summer 2019. An ER doctor discharged the veteran with instructions to go to the facility’s outpatient mental health clinic, but there was no evidence the patient received treatment there.

IG: Millions of veterans waiting to hear about canceled VA appointments

The Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to track or reschedule about 3 million of the more than 10 million appointments that were canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the VA Office of Inspector General found.

Trump’s VA accountability office has recommended discipline for seven leaders since 2018

An office created by President Donald Trump to root out poorly performing Department of Veterans Affairs leaders has received thousands of complaints since 2018, has investigated 389 of them and has recommended disciplinary action against seven senior employees.

Family seeks damages after veteran's suicide inside VA mental health unit

Sgt. Brieux Dash hung himself March 14, 2019, on a door in the locked mental health unit at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.

Advocates begin 'final push' to get benefits for Vietnam War veterans

The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

Disabled veterans urge Congress, Trump to fund USPS

Recent mail delays have prompted concern among veterans and lawmakers about delays for mail-order prescriptions and other vital Department of Veterans Affairs mail.

Lawmakers urge postmaster general to fix 'troubling' delays of veterans’ medication

Lawmakers urged Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday to reverse disruptive changes at the U.S. Postal Service, voicing grave concerns about veterans whose mail-order medications are delayed.

Ex-VA official: Residents of veterans homes ‘left behind’ during pandemic

A former assistant secretary of the VA assembled a panel to investigate what had gone wrong as coronavirus killed residents of veterans homes in multiple states. What they found was startling: a lack of transparency and a VA leadership team that shirked responsibility for the facilities.

Black employees describe systemic racism in the VA

Five current and former Department of Veterans Affairs employees claim that racism was engrained in the VA and recently made worse by leaders who refused to address it.

Senate passes comprehensive bill to combat veteran suicide

The bill appropriates $174 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary for 2021 through 2025. It mandates that the department provide health care to all veterans for one year after they transition from active duty.

Senators introduce bill to aid veterans who were exposed to cancer-causing toxins at 'K2'

A group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would kickstart medical studies of veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, known as K2, and were exposed to multiple cancer-causing toxins.

Brandon Act, fighting suicide in the military, draws more support in Congress

The legislation is named for 21-year-old sailor Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018 after throwing himself into the spinning tail rotor of a MH-60s helicopter at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

Family of Vanessa Guillen announces legislation, demands change

The #IamVanessaGuillen bill would allow service members to file claims of sexual harassment and assault to a third-party agency, rather than through the chain of command.

Lax VA oversight led to coronavirus outbreaks at state veterans homes, House lawmakers say

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said during a hearing on the matter that the epidemic exposed a “critical shortage of oversight” at state veterans homes.

VA doctor has suicidal vet removed from DC hospital, vet kills themself days later

A veteran battling opioid withdrawal and suicidal thoughts begged to stay at the Washington veterans hospital one night in early 2019. Instead, a doctor had the veteran escorted out by police and said the patient could “go shoot [themself]. I do not care.” Six days later, the veteran died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

2,000 VA patients have now died from the coronavirus

The Department of Veterans Affairs hit a bleak milestone Tuesday when it reported the coronavirus has killed more than 2,000 of its patients.

VA opposes bill to grant dental care to all veterans

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides dental treatment only to veterans whose dental issues are related to their military service.

House lawmakers push for policies to boost representation of women, minority vets at VA

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs pushed Thursday to enact measures that would boost the representation of women and minority veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs, all of which the department supported – except one.

Lawmakers blast VA for estimate of years needed to change ‘inconsistent’ sexual harassment policies

House lawmakers blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday after officials estimated it would take years to fix the way the VA handles allegations of sexual harassment among its workforce.

Report shows high demand for treating vets with substance abuse and mental health problems

Veterans are at high risk for suffering from substance abuse disorders and mental health issues at the same time, and they often struggle to find help, according to a Rand Corp.report released Wednesday. Wounded Warrior Project asked Rand to do the study.

Lawmakers, advocates urge change after the killing of Spc. Vanessa Guillen

Lawmakers and advocates called for change Tuesday to the military’s handling of sexual harassment and assaults and described the recent killing of a female soldier as a “watershed moment” and a “reckoning” against a scourge of sexual violence in the armed forces.

Congress to finally consider adding four conditions to Agent Orange list

The measure would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering form bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms – conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

VA opposes efforts to reinstate 48-hour review process for claims

Lawmakers and Department of Veterans Affairs officials clashed Thursday over the end to a decades-old practice allowing veterans service representatives to review decisions about benefits for accuracy before they’re finalized.

Reports: Army private died before being declared AWOL

The remains of Gregory Wedel-Morales, who disappeared outside Fort Hood in August 2019, were found last month. After reviewing evidence in the case, the Army decided to reinstate him and he is now entitled to a military funeral.

Former VA nursing assistant admits to killing seven patients

Reta Mays, a former staff member at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center was charged with seven counts of second-degree murder, as well as assault with the intent to commit murder.

VA tops 5,000 active coronavirus cases — again

There were 5,039 cases of the virus among VA patients Tuesday, according to department data. The first time that the department reported more than 5,000 active cases was in mid-April.

VA’s abortion ban is questioned on Capitol Hill

A law passed by Congress in 1992 prohibits the Department of Veteran Affairs from performing abortions or counseling women about them.

Arlington National Cemetery loosens some restrictions on military funerals

More people will be allowed to attend funerals at Arlington National Cemetery starting Monday as the site moves to the next step of its phased reopening.

Two lawmakers want to recoup bonuses from VA doctor charged with killing patients

During his years as chief pathologist of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, Robert Morris Levy misread samples of ill patients and made thousands of misdiagnoses. He was fired from the VA in 2018 for being impaired during work hours.

Lawmaker introduces Brandon Act to improve troops’ access to mental health care

The underlying goal of the Brandon Act is to create a pathway for service members to seek mental health care in confidence, without disclosing it to their command.

Senate passes bill to give millions more veterans free lifetime entry to national parks

The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act amends the current eligibility standards for national park passes and would grant the passes to millions more U.S. veterans.

Active coronavirus cases at VA have more than doubled since the start of June

The Department of Veterans Affairs started the month with a hopeful milestone – fewer than 1,000 patients remained sick with the coronavirus. In recent days, however, the number of cases has again climbed past 2,000.

VA hospitals see new coronavirus clusters in Arizona, Florida, Texas

Reflecting nationwide trends, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities have seen clusters of new coronavirus cases in Arizona, Texas and Florida, which now rank at the top of the list with the most active cases across the VA system.

Trump unveils 'bold' plan to prevent veteran suicide, but critics say it's not enough

The last annual report from the VA showed that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than among the rest of the population, particularly among women. About 20 veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve die by suicide every day.

White House task force to release plan for veteran suicide prevention

President Donald Trump was set Wednesday to release a national plan to prevent veteran suicide — one that’s more than a year in the making and will take two years to implement fully.

Lawmakers want VA to address backlog of FOIA requests from vets, advocates

Two veterans in Congress introduced legislation Monday that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to respond to a backlog of requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, many from veterans themselves and advocacy groups.

Honor Flight cancels all trips for 2020, affecting 20,000 veterans

Under normal circumstances, the network would’ve transported about 20,000 to Washington this year, the group estimated. It was on track to reach the milestone of providing 250,000 trips to veterans in the 15 years since Honor Flight was founded.

Sen. Duckworth wants nonveteran presidents restricted from Arlington burial

Only two U.S. presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery: William Howard Taft, who died in 1930, and John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.

Veterans group urges White House task force to release plan for suicide prevention after delays

Citing the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout as a source of mental stress, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called on Secretary Robert Wilkie to publish the VA's past-due plan to prevent veteran suicide.

VA to place gender-exclusive motto in 142 cemeteries

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to install plaques inscribed with its motto, using male-only pronouns, in 142 cemeteries nationwide — drawing ire from female veterans and advocates who have pushed for a gender-neutral version for years.