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

White House: ‘No reason to believe’ Trump has lost confidence in VA secretary

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to dispel speculation Tuesday that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin — often complimented by President Donald Trump over the past year — is no longer in Trump’s good graces.

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.

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.