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

VA delays distribution of veteran ID cards

Thousands of veterans who started applying for new identification cards through the Department of Veterans Affairs in November won’t see them until April, according to the agency.

Inspector General: Poor leadership led to widespread problems at DC VA

A culture of complacency at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Washington D.C. allowed widespread failures to persist for years, putting veterans at risk and weakening core functions of the hospital, according to new findings from the VA Inspector General’s Office.

New ‘HEAL team’ seeks to find, help veterans in need of mental health care

The veterans organization AMVETS announced an estimated $700,000 suicide-prevention initiative Tuesday to find veterans who could be struggling with a mental health crisis and get them treatment.

Veterans with PTSD sue Navy over claims of biased discharges

By the age of 21, Marine Corps Cpl. Tyson Manker led infantrymen into battle in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His actions as a Marine garnered him the Presidential Unit Citation and other awards, yet the military doesn’t consider his service as honorable.

Study: Private-sector medical providers in New York unprepared to treat veterans

The study, released Thursday, lends context to an ongoing debate in Congress about how aggressively veterans’ medical care should be outsourced to the private sector.

IG finds no evidence of email hacking related to travel scandal

The former Department of Veterans Affairs chief of staff was the subject of email “spoofing,” investigators determined, but the incident was not related to findings that she misled an ethics official in an email last summer – a connection that was implied by the VA secretary.

Republican lawmaker says VA should study potential benefits of marijuana

The comments from Rep. Phil Roe come as public support for medical marijuana from individual veterans and major veterans service organizations has grown during the past year.

Shulkin looks to shake off travel controversy and move forward with VA reform

David Shulkin, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, hasn’t had an easy week. Or at least that’s how he summed up the past 10 days.

Combat veterans push for gun reform: ‘This isn’t right’

Army veteran Dennis Magnasco used to get frustrated with friends who called for gun reform. They weren’t experts on weapons, he thought. They didn’t understand the nuances. That changed in October when a shooter killed dozens in Las Vegas with semiautomatic rifles, modified with bump fire stocks. Listening to audio of the shooting transported Magnasco back to Afghanistan, shaking him to the core.

Congressman on VA caregiver benefits: ‘We can do this right’

In 2010, Congress created the VA caregiver program for veterans who sustained serious injuries after 9/11. Approximately 26,000 caregivers who are enrolled in the program receive monthly stipends, as well as other benefits.

Senators troubled by VA secretary’s response to IG report, ask for transparency

Four Democratic senators said Thursday that they are troubled by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s response to findings of ethical violations connected to his taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last summer.

Trump plans to nominate Army veteran Paul Lawrence as undersecretary for VA benefits

President Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday night to nominate a longtime management consultant to fill a top spot at the Department of Veterans Affairs that’s remained unfilled for nearly three years.

Veterans groups rally behind David Shulkin

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America – groups that regularly advise VA leadership and lawmakers on veterans issues – backed VA Secretary David Shulkin on Monday and decried any attempt to undermine or replace him.

Amid turmoil, VA names new permanent chief of staff

Peter O’Rourke, a Navy and Air Force veteran, has headed the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection since it was created in May. He was previously a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team.

VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson resigns after damning IG report

After two days of turmoil within the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA chief of staff has resigned, following findings that she misled an ethics official into approving expenses for the VA secretary’s wife on a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe.

Congressman requests Justice Department review of 'spoof' account for VA chief of staff

The review comes a day after the VA Inspector General released a report that outlines “serious derelictions” by VA personnel — including altered emails and false statements that led to travel expenses for VA Secretary David Shulkin’s wife to be paid with taxpayer dollars.

Lawmakers take restrained approach with Shulkin the day after scathing IG report

When put in a position to question Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin — who’s facing allegations of poor judgement and misconduct regarding an official trip to Europe last summer — lawmakers were mostly restrained.

House Republican calls for VA Secretary’s resignation amid travel controversy

The VA inspector general found Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match in July for himself and his wife, Merle Bari, and spent much of a 10-day official trip sightseeing.

Federal unions march on VA headquarters to protest staffing shortages

About 200 federal workers marched by Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, protesting staffing shortages and what they argued were attempts by President Donald Trump to dismantle the VA health care system.

Cuts to red tape for VA property included in Trump’s infrastructure proposal

Under current law, the VA can’t keep profits from selling properties, and it can’t exchange its current facilities for new ones. Trump’s plan proposes to change that.

Marines: Slight increase in end strength proposed

The Marine Corps would get a 1 percent boost in end strength under the Pentagon’s budget proposal released Monday, accounting for 1,100 of about 15,000 active-duty servicemembers that would be added in fiscal year 2019 if Congress approves the plan.

VA budget would climb to nearly $200 billion under Trump proposal

The Department of Veterans Affairs would get another multibillion-dollar increase in 2019 under President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal, which includes cuts to domestic agencies and social programs while boosting spending for defense, homeland security and the VA.

House VA committee chairman announces re-election bid

Republican Phil Roe, who represents Tennessee’s first district in Congress and is the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, made the announcement amid speculation he would retire. He cited his work on veterans’ issues as a reason he will run for a sixth term.

New VA memo nixes plan to shift $460 million earmarked for veteran homelessness

Collaborators spoke out in December when they discovered VA Secretary David Shulkin planned to reallocate $460 million specifically geared toward the veteran housing program known as HUD-VASH into hospitals’ general-purpose accounts.

Ginnie Mae penalizes 9 lenders for targeting veterans

The U.S. government sent notices to nine lenders this week, warning them that they would be penalized for pressuring veterans into costly home loan refinancing. The action could be just the first step in removing predatory lenders that target the VA program, which offers veterans a low-cost mortgage option.

Conservative vets group plans multimillion-dollar campaign for 2018 mid-terms, starting with Tammy Baldwin

Concerned Veterans for America, which is part of the Koch conservative political network, initiated a $1.5 million advertisement campaign Tuesday criticizing Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., for her record on veterans issues.

Ginnie Mae to take action against predatory lenders that target veterans

Two weeks ago, Ginnie Mae warned lenders would be disciplined for aggressively targeting and pressuring veterans to refinance their home loans. Later this week, the government corporation plans to take action.

VA considers restricting eligibility for caregivers program

Shulkin wants to restrict a program that provides monthly stipends and other assistance to family caregivers of post-9/11 veterans to individuals who need help with at least three activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing and dressing.

VA disregards request to make agency motto gender-neutral

The Department of Veterans Affairs won’t pursue a change to its longtime motto despite complaints that it excludes women and symbolizes barriers for female veterans within the VA health care system.

VA hospital director in Oregon removed as agency vows to crackdown on troubled facilities

The director of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Oregon was replaced and reassigned this week as part of an agency-wide crackdown on poor-performing VA medical centers.

VA criticized over eye care for vets in rural areas

A Department of Veterans Affairs program aimed at increasing access to eye exams for rural and homeless veterans utilizes a technique that some optometrists consider subpar care.

Committee considers new eligibility standards, more land for Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery — a place long-viewed as a shrine to America’s fallen heroes — is nearing the end of its lifespan, but a group of people with a lead role in deciding its future got one step closer Tuesday to reviving it.

VA resumes online applications for new ID cards

Veterans can again submit online applications for new identification cards through the Department of Veterans Affairs website after the system was taken down in December following rollout problems.

White House weighs in on stalled VA Choice reform

The guidance calls for clearer rules about when veterans can go into the private sector for health care and asks senators to remove proposals to implement a hiring quota at VA facilities and expand caregiver benefits that are only available now to veterans injured after 9/11.

Special Counsel: Veterans Affairs reaction to Manchester VA problems was ‘sluggish,’ ‘evasive’

The Office of Special Counsel criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday for ignoring whistleblower complaints about its medical center in Manchester, New Hampshire, and said the agency only reacted once the problems were thrust into the public spotlight.

VA secretary, other federal officials participate in national homeless count

For VA Secretary David Shulkin, practicing medicine gives him a better understanding about the health care needs of the veterans he serves. On Wednesday, he tried that same hands-on approach for another daunting problem facing the VA -- veteran homelessness.

Amid ‘Please Stand’ controversy, NFL announces it will honor veterans during Super Bowl

Days after receiving criticism from a national veterans organization for rejecting an advertisement urging players and fans to stand during the national anthem, the National Football League announced Thursday that it would honor veterans during Super Bowl LII.

Study: Married veterans face greater risk of suicide

Researchers reviewed survey responses from 772 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and found variations in suicide risk based on age, income, marital status and religious beliefs.

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.

After impasse, senators to restart negotiations on VA Choice reform

With an assist from the White House, senators are expected to restart negotiations about how to overhaul the flawed program veterans use to receive medical care in the private sector.

Shulkin clarifies marijuana comments: Federal law makes marijuana too difficult to study

Proponents for research into using medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain were dealt another blow this week, after comments from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made it clear the agency will not explore anytime soon how the drug could help veterans without a change to federal law.

Advocates concerned veteran homelessness isn’t a VA priority

An attempt by the Department of Veterans Affairs late last year to reduce funding to a veterans housing program has created a lingering rift between the agency and veterans advocates.

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.