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

NFL rejects Super Bowl ad from veterans group that asks players to stand during anthem

The National Football League rejected an advertisement for its official Super Bowl LII programs that urged players and people who attend the game to stand during the national anthem, according to American Veterans, the organization that submitted the ad.

VA secretary apologizes for surgery that left scalpel in Army veteran for years

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said it was an "extremely rare event" that happens in the U.S. about 1,500 times a year and in the VA 12 times. “That’s a rate in the VA much less than what happens outside, but that’s no excuse.”

Beleaguered VA hospital in Colorado sees staffing, design obstacles before 2018 opening

Hundreds of tasks need to be completed and hundreds of job openings filled before the new, overbudget and long-delayed Department of Veterans Affairs hospital near Denver can begin to accept patients for its scheduled opening this summer.

Senators call out Shulkin on VA’s unfilled top jobs

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the second-largest federal department, is operating without permanent leaders for its benefits administration and large health care system.

Harsh response to Shulkin's decision that VA won’t study medical marijuana for PTSD

Despite pleas from congressmen, veterans and the country’s largest veterans service organization asking for research into medical marijuana, the Department of Veterans Affairs won’t initiate a study into the drug’s effects on post-traumatic stress disorder, VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote in a letter to House Democrats.

VA establishes exam site for deported vets in Tijuana

For five years, deported Army veteran Hector Barajas-Varela has been fighting one of America’s largest bureaucracies. Now, he’s seeing some payoff for the deported vets he advocates for in Tijuana, Mexico.

Watchdog report: VA hospitals could be left vulnerable to violence

The Government Accountability Office's report detailed shortcomings in VA security at its hospitals and clinics, most notably that it does not require facilities to alter security measures based on fluctuating threat levels.

Secret bitcoin philanthropist backs research of ecstasy as treatment for PTSD

The Pineapple Fund, an anonymous benefactor’s initiative to give away $86 million in digital currency, plans to donate $4 million for the study of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

VA promises action to protect veterans from predatory lenders

The Department of Veterans Affairs will soon propose rule changes to its home loan guarantee program that aim to stop lenders from aggressively targeting and pressuring veterans to refinance their home loans, a VA official told congressmen Wednesday.

Trump signs order to improve mental health care for new vets

President Donald Trump signed an executive order paving the way for servicemembers to be enrolled automatically with Veterans Affairs for mental health care when they leave the military -- an attempt to eliminate barriers for transitioning troops to get treatment during their first year after service.

VA attempting faster payments to private-sector medical providers who care for vets

The amount of money that the Department of Veterans Affairs owes private-sector medical providers will be made public now – one of several moves the agency announced this week in an attempt to hold itself accountable for faster reimbursements to outside doctors that treat VA patients.

'Get ready to fight:' Veterans condemn DOJ rollback of Obama-era marijuana policy

Veterans who have advocated for greater access to medical marijuana are concerned about decreased access to the drug following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision Thursday to rescind policies that took a hands-off approach to enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states where it is legal.

Utah couple's relentless pursuit to end veteran suicide: 'If it's not us — then who?'

In the basement of Building 73 on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, veterans and psychologists AnnaBelle and Craig Bryan have researched and developed suicide-prevention and PTSD treatments with near-perfect success rates.

Congress approves emergency funding for VA Choice, prevents delays of veterans’ care

A stopgap funding bill that President Donald Trump signed Friday to avoid a government shutdown included $2.1 billion for a nearly bankrupt Department of Veterans Affairs program that allows veterans to seek medical care in the private sector.

Trump signs bill opening VA to more investigations

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed legislation allowing for more and faster investigations of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities by permitting nongovernment groups to inspect them.

VA says Veterans Choice Program money could run out as early as Jan. 2

Funding for the government system that allows veterans to seek private-sector health care could be depleted as early as Jan. 2, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tax reform fight complicates committee vote on VA Choice overhaul

The fight over tax reform muddied debate Tuesday on legislation that would significantly change the system that veterans use to receive private-sector health care.

Special counsel investigation leads to change in VA policy about suicidal vets

Veterans Affairs is implementing a new agency-wide policy to flag medical records of patients at high risk of suicide within 24 hours — a decision made following whistleblower allegations that a VA suicide-prevention team was being neglectful of suicidal veterans.

Democrats, vets' advocates call for VA funding in year-end spending bill

Senate Democrat Jon Tester urged Congress on Wednesday to lift spending caps and fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs in a possible year-end budget deal that could be reached by the end of the week.

VA faces higher-than-estimated costs, other challenges to implement ‘Forever’ GI Bill

Higher-than-anticipated costs is one of a number of problems that the agency has faced for months of a yearlong charge to implement the “Forever” GI Bill, which contains 34 changes to veterans’ education benefits.

VA urges Congress to approve funding by end of year or see ‘dramatic impact’ on vets care

The Veterans Choice program will be depleted of funds within three to five weeks, Shulkin wrote in a notice to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Without more money, the VA will soon stop referring patients to their private-sector doctors, he said.

HUD reports 1st increase in homeless veterans since 2010

The findings were released Wednesday at the same time concerns were growing among advocates that the federal government was stripping resources from one program that has been successfully housing veterans.

VA: More alternative therapy options available to fight PTSD

Pressurized oxygen chambers, light-emitting helmets and neck injections are all treatments the Department of Veterans Affairs is using to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Veterans advocates see progress in fight for caregiver benefits

Some veterans organizations on Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass legislative reforms for the Department of Veterans Affairs that include a mandate to expand caregiver benefits to veterans injured before 9/11 – a group that isn’t eligible now.

VA Choice reform becomes more complex as deadline looms

Republican Sens. John McCain and Jerry Moran on Monday introduced a new plan to overhaul the program that veterans use to receive private-sector medical care – tossing another option into an already complex debate that’s about to reach a crucial deadline.

High demand for new veteran ID cards crashes VA website

The Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily removed an online application process for new veteran identification cards after high demand crashed the webpage.

VA to offer unproven hyperbaric oxygen therapy to vets with PTSD

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it would begin offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy to some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite a lack of evidence that it works or being approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for PTSD.

VA now taking applications for new veteran identification cards

Veterans can now apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs for identification cards that could help them prove their military history but don’t qualify as official government-issued IDs.

VA vows to improve efforts to warn of poor-performing doctors

Veterans Affairs is trying to improve oversight and more timely reporting of poor-performing doctors to state medical boards, the acting leader of VA’s organizational excellence office told members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Senate veterans committee advances $54 billion VA Choice overhaul

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced legislation Wednesday to overhaul the controversial Veterans Choice program and establish a new system for veterans to seek private-sector medical care.

VA owes $226 million to the Treasury Department, inspector general finds

The VA office of inspector general found the agency has not repaid funds taken from the Treasury’s Judgment Fund during the past six years to pay settlements from contract disputes on 10 major construction projects.

Watchdog: VA failed to report 90 percent of poor-performing doctors

The Department of Veterans Affairs fails to report 90 percent of poor-performing doctors to national and state databases intended to alert other hospitals of misconduct, according to findings released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Wesley Fox dies at 86

Marine Corps Col. Wesley Fox, who received the Medal of Honor for successfully leading his company through an enemy attack during the Vietnam War and retired decades later at the mandatory age of 62, died the evening of Nov. 24 in Blacksburg, Va. He was 86.

Legislation allowing vets to bypass VA draws ire of VFW

The Veterans Empowerment Act, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., would allow veterans to bypass Veterans Affairs and receive treatment from private-sector doctors with taxpayers money. The VFW criticized the legislation.

House Veterans committee chairman takes oversight on the road

Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs have conducted 23 visits between January and September — many of them to VA facilities accused of wrongdoing. Rep. Phil Roe has been part of about a dozen of those visits, including a three-state trip that began Friday.

Lawmakers: Stop deporting noncitizen veterans

After months of little response from the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other lawmakers renewed efforts Thursday to stop the deportation of veterans from the U.S. and secure more protections for them.

Veterans Affairs seeks $782 million for electronic health records overhaul

The VA is close to entering into a contract with the health information technology company it chose to implement a new electronic health records system. But first, Congress must allow the VA to reappropriate $782 million in other department funds.

First VetsAid concert provides $360,000 in grants

Grammy award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joe Walsh distributed $360,000 among 16 veterans’ organizations after VetsAid, a benefit concert he put together in September.

Veterans lobby Sessions to ease restrictions on marijuana

Just down the hall from where Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee he would maintain current marijuana policies, a retired Navy SEAL, NFL lineman and two Republican lawmakers urged him and President Donald Trump to ease up.

'Keep fighting:' Vets work to bridge information gap on Gulf War illness

Army veteran Shawn Scott wants to help VA medical providers better understand the cluster of conditions known as Gulf War illness, so they could improve care for vets like him. "Every time I went to see a doctor, I’d say I had Gulf War Illness and they’d say, ‘What’s that?’”

Cost estimate delays VA Choice overhaul

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, postponed the vote until members receive a cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. “I was not comfortable asking members to vote on final passage of a bill of this significance without some idea of cost,” he said.

House passes bill taking VA telehealth across state lines

The VA introduced telehealth more than a decade ago. In 2016, the agency reported about 677,000 patients – 12 percent of the veterans enrolled in VA health care – used telehealth in some form. Under legislation the House passed Tuesday, that could expand significantly.

Veterans’ health care battle becomes dispute over the details

Lawmakers and stakeholders were grappling Tuesday with details of legislation that focus on a big question in veterans’ health care – whether the government or the veteran should have final say about where medical treatment is provided.

Poll: Marijuana research widely supported among veterans

Most veteran households, regardless of state, age or political affiliation, support researching and legalizing medical marijuana, according to a poll commissioned by the American Legion released Thursday. The poll found 92 percent of veterans support research into medical cannabis.

Agent Orange coverage fight for Blue Water Navy vets is delayed again

An effort to extend health benefits to about 90,000 sailors who served in Vietnam stalled again in the House – a blow to advocates who thought the measure would overcome a hurdle Thursday that it hasn’t in a yearslong fight.

Iraq and Afghanistan vets call VA motto ‘sexist’

A group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is demanding the Department of Veterans Affairs change its motto, which they argue is sexist, outdated and exclusionary. Since 1959, the motto has been a quote from former President Abraham Lincoln: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

House lawmakers urge VA secretary to research medical marijuana

In a letter Thursday to VA Secretary David Shulkin, lawmakers cited the country’s opioid crisis and the growing demand from veterans and major veterans service organizations that want cannabis available as a treatment option for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Facebook shuts down ‘imposter’ veterans page

Facebook Inc. disabled a page on its social media platform Tuesday after determining it violated the intellectual property of a congressionally chartered veterans service organization.

Soldier behind ‘Thank You’ opens up to help others

Ten years ago, when journalist David Finkel approached Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann on his last day in Iraq, Schumann didn’t anticipate his life would be chronicled in two books, and he couldn’t imagine the story would play out in a major motion picture.

House considers major changes to VA health care

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin argued Tuesday that a House plan for veterans’ health care was too restrictive and wouldn’t offer enough veterans the choice of private-sector care.

As Congress ramps up VA health care debate, more voices join fight

Major reforms to veterans’ health care are moving forward on Capitol Hill, and politically conservative and liberal groups are attempting to influence what could be an intense debate over balancing private-sector care.

VA seeking donations for health care facilities

The Department of Veterans Affairs is soliciting donors such as nonprofits to provide funds to construct, expand or renovate VA health care facilities.

Veterans with 'bad paper' won't get new VA ID cards

Starting next month, veterans can register for identification cards that prove their military history – but not everyone who has served will get one.

Advocates fight for Desert Storm memorial site near National Mall

Retired four-star Army Gen. Ronald Griffith made an impassioned case Thursday for the new National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial to be placed near the National Mall, adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Veterans organization asks for more help combating ‘imposter’ Facebook page

Vietnam Veterans of America, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization, runs a public Facebook page. Another page, Vietnam Vets of America, isn’t affiliated with a major veterans group. VVA calls them an "imposter page."

VA proposes Choice program overhaul that eliminates 30-day/40-mile rule

The Department of Veterans Affairs sent a bill proposal to Congress that would overhaul how veterans receive health care in the private sector and do away with the widely criticized “30-day/40-mile” rule, the agency announced Monday.

VA secretary promises in writing not to cut benefit program for disabled vets

Months after President Donald Trump’s administration backed off a proposal to slash benefits for the country’s most disabled veterans, organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars were still receiving calls and emails from panicked vets. That’s why the organizations were relieved Thursday, when VA Secretary David Shulkin put the promise in writing.

BRAC for VA: Lawmakers search for ways to reduce the number of VA facilities

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday initiated what could be a long and politically arduous process to get rid of aging and underused Department of Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide.

Lawmakers consider pushing VA to sell Pershing Hall, its 5-star Paris hotel

There’s an effort underway in Congress to have the Department of Veterans Affairs sell an 18th century building it owns in Paris that’s leased as a five-star boutique hotel and spa.

Congressmen consider proposal to slash GI Bill flight school benefits

Congressmen heard arguments Wednesday for cutting federal funding given to veterans who attend flight training programs, with some veteran advocates saying the schools use a loophole to charge inordinate amounts for tuition and abuse the GI Bill.

Democrats want to help deported vets get VA care

When five members of Congress traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, on Friday, they met U.S. veterans, many of them with mental illness or physical issues — all deported and unable to access their federal benefits.

Senators call for more oversight of VA spending

A group of senators led by Arizona Republican John McCain are seeking assurances that money spent on private health care for veterans is well-managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Chief of VA health system steps down

The leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system unexpectedly stepped down from her position effective Saturday, leaving three top VA positions unfilled by permanent undersecretaries.

Union warns of VA privatization ahead of Choice reform debate

A coalition of people opposed to the Department of Veterans Affairs providing more private care for veterans described their fears Thursday about an effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to shift more public funds to private entities and undermine VA health care.

‘Alzheimer’s is a veterans’ disease:’ New group tries to improve support for vets with dementia

VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s, which officially launched Tuesday, is partnering with Veterans Affairs and Veterans of Foreign Wars to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research, boost support for caregivers and enroll more vets who are affected by dementia into the VA.

VA publicizes Shulkin’s travel schedule amid scrutiny over Cabinet spending

The Department of Veterans Affairs made moves Friday to publicize Secretary David Shulkin’s travel schedule, following scrutiny over the cost of government-funded travel by other Cabinet members.

Stage set in Congress for debate on Choice program reform

VA Secretary David Shulkin had told lawmakers in June that the account was quickly and unexpectedly running out of money because of increased demand. Now, the money – originally estimated to last until February 2018 – is again being spent faster than predicted.

‘Something has to change:’ Facing high denial rates for VA claims, 3 Gulf War vets intervene

Their work became more urgent this summer, after a Government Accountability Office report disclosed that the VA denies more than 80 percent of veterans’ claims for Gulf War-associated illnesses.


Joe Walsh’s first VetsAid concert delivers charity, 'healing'

The first concert of an initiative by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joe Walsh to raise money for veterans featured uniformed servicemembers, a few dozen Gold Star families, countless guitar riffs and an appearance from a U.S. senator.

High school with highest death rate in Vietnam embraces its legacy

It took 50 years for Louis Viscusi to overcome the mental obstacles that kept him from the blighted neighborhood in North Philadelphia that he always meant to visit.

VA fires DC medical director for the second time

The Department of Veterans Affairs fired its D.C. medical director again, this time using new laws championed by President Donald Trump that ease restrictions on employee discipline.

Joe Walsh, others team up for concert to benefit veterans

Longtime musician Joe Walsh, a Grammy award-winner and inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is best known as a guitarist for the Eagles. A lesser-known fact: he’s also a Gold Star son.

Experts: Veterans should ‘get out in the streets’ to protest government’s handling of ‘bad paper’

Easing challenges created for veterans who receive “bad paper” discharges will require changes in practices and procedures at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, some experts said Friday. But first, it will take public outrage.

Veterans crisis line to open third call center

The Department of Veterans Affairs will open a third call center in the fall to handle an anticipated increase in calls to the veterans crisis hotline. The announcement comes just nine months after a second call center was opened in Atlanta.

Study: ‘Obamacare’ repeal or replace would increase uninsured veterans, strain VA

Federal health care reform proposed by Republicans in Congress in recent months would increase the number of old, sick and low-income veterans without insurance and put pressure on an overburdened Veterans Affairs system, a Rand Corp. study released Thursday found.

Lawmakers consider Ohio project for designation as national veterans museum

A museum and memorial under construction in downtown Columbus, Ohio, could become known officially as the national site for Americans to reflect on the experiences of veterans.