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

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.

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.

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.