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 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.

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.

VA backlog of claims grows to 119,000 as work stopped for coronavirus

The backlog of Department of Veterans Affairs claims has grown by tens of thousands of cases since the department halted work because of the coronavirus pandemic, top VA officials said Wednesday.

Mar-a-Lago members acted as advisers, organizers at VA, watchdog finds

Three members of President Donald Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort acted as advisers and organizers at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2016 to 2018, the Government Accountability Office determined after an investigation into the private citizens’ involvement in the federal agency.

VA sees rise in coronavirus cases after a gradual decline

The number of VA patients still sick with the virus had gradually decreased in recent weeks and on Thursday fell below 1,000 for the first time since March. However, the department reported a 54% increase in active cases Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers condemn Trump’s plan to deploy military to protests

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., described Trump’s statements as destabilizing, irresponsible and a step toward autocratic rule.

VA relents, will replace Nazi gravestones in national cemeteries

After calls to remove the stones, the department first insisted it would continue to preserve them “like every past administration.”

VA headquarters vandalized; DC mayor announces curfew

Department of Veterans Affairs offices in downtown Washington were vandalized as peaceful weekend protests over George Floyd’s death devolved into clashes with police and destruction.

VA doesn't need more money for coronavirus response, CFO says

The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent only 12% of nearly $20 billion that Congress gave the agency for its response to the coronavirus pandemic and will need no more money in coming months, the chief financial officer said Thursday.

Future management of veterans homes to be questioned after pandemic, Wilkie predicts

How much control the federal government should exert over state-run veterans homes will be one of the “most important questions” to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie predicted Thursday.

VA secretary wants to keep Nazi gravestones for historical purposes

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie argued Thursday against calls from lawmakers to remove German soldiers’ gravestones etched with swastikas from VA-operated cemeteries.

VA trials of hydroxychloroquine will continue despite troubling studies

About 1,300 VA patients have received hydroxychloroquine. The department did not say how many of those patients recovered from the virus nor how many died.

Senate Democrats try to restore 48-hour review process for VA claims

Last month, the VA ended a decades-old practice of allowing veterans service representatives to review benefits decisions for accuracy before those decisions are finalized and sent to veterans.

Congressman urges VA to open cemeteries for Memorial Day

Congressman Brian Mast on Tuesday criticized a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary to restrict public ceremonies at national cemeteries during Memorial Day weekend.

As VA deaths exceed 1,000, some hospitals begin to offer in-person care

The number of known deaths from the coronavirus among Department of Veterans Affairs patients exceeded 1,000 on Monday.

‘Terrified and trapped’: Paralyzed veterans struggle during pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a deadly force in the United States, paralyzed veterans are struggling to meet their basic needs, such as buying groceries, according to Paralyzed Veterans of America.

As VA deaths near 1,000, department boosts hiring, supplies

After weeks of supply shortages and staffing concerns, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it has obtained millions of respiratory masks and hired thousands of employees in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Honor Flight Network cancels trips to DC through August

The Honor Flight Network, which sends veterans to tour the war memorials in Washington, D.C., said Thursday that it would cancel trips to the nation’s capital through the end of August.

Tricare eliminates copayments for telehealth during pandemic

Tricare, the military’s health insurance provider, is covering telephone appointments and has eliminated copayments for telehealth services as of Wednesday. The changes will remain in effect through the national emergency, according to a new rule posted on the Federal Register.

National cemeteries plan brief, private ceremonies for Memorial Day

National cemeteries will open from dawn to dusk on Memorial Day, but the usual events to honor deceased service members will be brief and closed to the public.

Democrat-introduced stimulus bill includes support for homeless vets, hazard pay for VA employees

The 1,815-page legislation, which at $3 trillion would be the largest relief package in U.S. history, was criticized by House Republicans as a “liberal wish list” that had no chance of becoming law.

3D mammogram coverage will be available soon for Tricare users

“This is a major victory for our female service members and veterans covered under Tricare,” said Sen. Martha McSally. “Women in our Armed Forces now have access to the best preventative breast cancer screenings."

More than 5,000 veterans in recovery from coronavirus, VA says

As of Wednesday, 5,185 veterans and 760 VA employees were in recovery from the virus — about 65% of the department’s nearly 10,000 cases. Thousands of veterans remain hospitalized with the virus.

VA coronavirus deaths near 500, cases surpass 8,500

The numbers provide only a snapshot of cases and deaths among veterans. The VA’s tally does not include veterans who are not enrolled in the VA system or veterans who were treated at community hospitals, rather than VA facilities.

New law restores GI Bill benefits to veterans affected by pandemic

A new law will restore GI Bill benefits to veterans whose campuses closed or who were forced to withdraw from classes because of the virus.

Advocates predict a long ‘road to recovery’ for homeless veterans affected by pandemic

It’s uncertain how many homeless veterans have contracted coronavirus or died from it. The VA doesn’t include demographic information in its online data, and the VA’s death toll includes only those who were treated at VA facilities.

VA hires nearly 1,000 nurses to help with coronavirus response

The VA expects to hire an additional 4,500 employees in the next several weeks, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.

Some veterans must file information to receive stimulus money for dependents

The Department of Veterans Affairs said stimulus checks will be sent automatically to veterans who receive VA benefits but don’t typically file tax returns. However, those veterans need to fill out an online form to get additional money for dependents.

Coronavirus deaths among VA patients hit 400

The VA reported there were 400 deaths and 6,363 positive cases of the virus as of early Friday. The death rate across the VA — the country’s largest health care system — continued to rise this week by an average of 4% each day.

Lawmakers criticize VA for changing benefits process amid pandemic

The VA is ending a decades-old practice of allowing veterans service representatives to review benefits decisions for accuracy before those decisions are finalized and sent to veterans.

Veterans group accuses VA of using coronavirus patients as ‘testing subjects’

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America took issue with the Department of Veterans Affairs doling out an unproven treatment for the coronavirus after a study was published this week that determined the drug had no benefit.

During pandemic, military community seeks more mental health care than other Americans, survey finds

Post-9/11 service members, veterans and their families sought mental health care in greater numbers than other Americans did as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, according to a new survey by Cohen Veterans Network.

‘It's out of control’: VA nurses demand more protection against coronavirus

Nurses at the VA hospital in Atlanta say the rationing of personal protective equipment is creating a dangerous environment for medical workers.

Study of malaria drug on VA virus patients shows no benefit, more deaths

About 28% of Department of Veterans Affairs patients who received hydroxychloroquine died, compared with 11% of patients who received standard care.

Outcry continues over masks for VA workers; patient deaths rise 13%

The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said Monday he was “very concerned” about the Department of Veterans Affairs workforce during the coronavirus pandemic, as patient deaths rise 13% over the weekend.

Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins, known for Vietnam heroics, dies of coronavirus

Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins is credited with killing 135 to 175 Vietnamese in a nearly four-day battle while being wounded 18 times and helping fellow soldiers to safety.

Friends, advocates, Vietnam War veterans die days apart

Vietnam War veterans Charles Sharples and Craige Osborne were friends, neighbors and part of the gay community in California’s Coachella Valley.

VA, Treasury will automatically send stimulus checks to veterans

The VA could not give a date when the payments may be distributed but indicated it could take weeks.

VA coronavirus cases surpass 5,000; more than 300 have died

As of Friday morning, 5,087 VA patients have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 301 veterans have died, the department reported.

VA, Treasury still working to get stimulus checks to potentially overlooked veterans

Their concern is for disabled or low-income veterans and surviving family members who receive monthly compensation from the VA but don’t file tax returns or benefit from Social Security.

VA secretary refuses to share documents that detail PPE supply, lawmakers say

After reassuring lawmakers for weeks that it has no shortage of personal protective equipment for its medical staff, Department of Veterans Affairs leaders are refusing to share documents with Congress that give an official count of its supply.

Facebook, VA will give away video-calling devices to connect veterans

Facebook Inc. and the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide 7,400 free video-calling devices to veterans to help them stay connected to friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic, the department announced Wednesday.

Coronavirus has now hit veterans homes in 16 states

The coronavirus has taken hold in long-term care facilities across the country and caused thousands of deaths – including state-run homes for aging veterans and their family members.

VA hospitals treat 135 non-veteran coronavirus patients

The Department of Veterans Affairs is helping 10 states with their coronavirus response efforts by opening bed space for non-veteran patients and sending VA medical staff to private facilities.

Marine Corps veteran recovers from coronavirus after eight days on ventilator

David Williams spent eight days connected to a ventilator and 17 days total at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Ark. When he was released, medical staff lined the hallways and cheered as he was wheeled out.

VA provides $200 million to house homeless veterans in hotels during pandemic

The Department of Veterans Affairs will distribute an extra $200 million to ease the burden on homeless shelters during the coronavirus pandemic and buy hotel rooms for veterans in need of help.

VA sees biggest single-day jump in reported coronavirus deaths

Two hundred veterans have died from the coronavirus at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country, the department said Friday.

Feds open investigation into coronavirus outbreak at Massachusetts veterans home

The number of deaths at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers' Home caused by coronavirus had grown to 28 by Thursday, according to multiple local news reports.

VA spent $200,000 on controversial anti-malaria drug touted as coronavirus 'game-changer'

Department of Veterans Affairs officials said March 26 that it was “irresponsible” to suggest the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine had any merit as a coronavirus treatment. The same day, the VA placed an emergency order for it.

Wounded Warrior Project donating $10 million to veterans affected by pandemic

The nonprofit started reaching out to its members — more than 100,000 veterans — to identify who might be in financial distress. Members in need will be able to apply for $1,000 grants, intended to go toward groceries, utilities or housing.

167 VA patients, seven employees dead from coronavirus

In total, 3,265 VA patients have tested positive for the virus, and more than 500 have been hospitalized. Employees of VA medical centers have also been infected — 1,130 as of Wednesday.

Organizers cancel Memorial Day motorcycle ride in Washington

A motorcycle rally in the nation’s capital, designed to replace the popular Rolling Thunder event, won’t happen on Memorial Day weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announced Tuesday night.

Disabled veterans could get left out of stimulus money, lawmakers warn

For some veterans and their families, VA payments are their only income. But, because these payments are not taxable, the IRS lacks payment information for these individuals — whose numbers are potentially in the millions, advocates said.

Nurses urge VA to send protective gear, medical staff to Brooklyn hospital

"I want some awareness of what’s going on,” said nurse Denise Bruno, who has worked at the VA for 12 years. “The government needs to ensure we have the supplies to protect ourselves."

Advocates ask VA to immediately distribute funding for homeless veterans

Advocates urged the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday to immediately disburse millions of dollars included for homeless veterans in the sweeping $2 trillion stimulus bill Congress approved March 27.

VA is preparing 1,500 hospital beds for non-veteran patients

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Sunday night that the VA would treat civilian patients in Louisiana, Michigan and Massachusetts, in addition to the help it’s providing for non-veterans in New York and New Jersey.

Trump promises VA will extend benefits deadlines, postpone debt collections

President Donald Trump promised the Department of Veterans Affairs would extend veterans’ deadlines for disability benefits and postpone any debt collections as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 2,000 VA patients, 500 staff have tested positive for coronavirus

Nearly 2,000 veterans and more than 500 Department of Veterans Affairs employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data released by the department Thursday.

VFW argues abrupt VA change will ‘erode veterans right to competent representation’ in benefits fights

The Department of Veterans Affairs is ending a decades-old practice of allowing veterans service representatives to review benefits decisions for accuracy before those decisions are finalized and sent to veterans.

Facing surge of patients, New Orleans VA transfers veterans to Mississippi

The New Orleans VA Medical Center had tested 258 positive cases of the virus Tuesday, more than triple the number reported by the New York Harbor Healthcare System, which had the next-largest number ofcases. New York Harbor serves Manhattan and Brooklyn and reported 72 cases Tuesday.

Rep. Max Rose is activated for National Guard duty

Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat from New York, will start National Guard duty Wednesday after his unit was called to support the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus deaths at VA hospitals tripled over the weekend

Over the weekend, the department reported deaths in the Bronx, N.Y.; Shreveport, La.; Fargo, N.D.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; San Francisco; Minneapolis; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; and Nashville. The VA reported two new deaths in Indianapolis, two in Brooklyn and five in New Orleans.

VA opens some beds in New York City facilities to non-veteran patients

The department determined opening beds to non-veterans would not negatively affect veteran care. “VA is proud to assist the City of New York while continuing its primary mission of caring for our nation’s veterans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.

VA predicts virus could affect 30 percent of its workforce

The Department of Veterans Affairs also suggested its facilities could see critical shortages of personal protective equipment for medical staff, hospital beds, ventilators and morgue space.

Spending bill includes nearly $20 billion for VA

The House approved and President Trump signed into law a sweeping $2 trillion measure Friday that includes $19.6 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Senator urges VA to share its supply of masks

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., implored members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to activate the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide backup medical care for civilian hospitals.