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

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.

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.

Senate-approved stimulus bill includes nearly $20 billion for VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs would get $19.6 billion to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic under a sweeping $2 trillion measure the Senate passed Wednesday night.

VA intends to pause community care program during coronavirus pandemic

“Completing non-urgent and routine health care appointments to meet access standards put veterans at risk of contracting COVID-19,” the agency wrote to lawmakers.

Commission: Women should be eligible for the draft

A congressionally mandated commission recommended Wednesday that women should be eligible for the draft and required to sign up at 18.

Pandemic prompts an increase in calls to Veterans Crisis Line

The crisis line, a suicide prevention tool for veterans and their families, has experienced a 12% increase in call volume, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told veterans organizations on a call Sunday. About 20% of recent calls to the hotline were related to the pandemic, the VA press secretary confirmed.

Two veterans die from coronavirus at New York VA hospitals

Both veterans were being treated at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in New York — one at the New York Harbor Healthcare System and the other at the Bronx VA Medical Center.

Work on getting homeless veterans into permanent housing has halted, advocates say

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is urging Congress to approve $200 million in emergency funding to temporarily house homeless veterans in hotel rooms and secure coronavirus tests for those who get sick.

New Orleans accounts for one-third of VA’s coronavirus cases

The VA had 204 cases across 50 locations Monday. Behind New Orleans, the locations with the most cases were Atlanta with 17, and New York City with 10.

VA urges doctors to come out of retirement to help with coronavirus cases

The VA health care system had 44,131 staff vacancies during the first quarter of 2020, with the most vacancies were nurses, medical support assistants and medical officers.

Florida Navy veteran with coronavirus speaks out

“I had to really fight for the test,” Navy veteran Marlies Craley, 50, said. “I had to fight, but [the doctor] listened to me and advocated for me.” Craley is one of over 80 veterans across the VA health care system with a confirmed case of the virus.

Congress approves emergency fix to protect GI Bill benefits as colleges go online

Student veterans will continue to receive their monthly housing payments uninterrupted, despite courses going online to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Senate passes coronavirus relief bill with $60 million for VA

As of Wednesday, the VA had 46 positive cases of coronavirus across its health care system. It had administered 322 tests as of Tuesday night, and it had 3,000 tests on hand.

Lawmakers push VA for better communication as coronavirus cases grow

House lawmakers urged Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Wednesday to provide daily briefings about the agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unions seek more protection for VA employees after workers test positive for coronavirus

Federal unions that represent Department of Veterans Affairs health care workers are calling on VA officials to better protect employees following reports that some have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Senate passes emergency bill protecting GI Bill benefits as colleges go online

GI Bill recipients rely on monthly stipends from the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for housing, food and other bills. Those payments are higher for students who attend physical classes as opposed to online coursework.

First VA patient dies of coronavirus, agency conducts limited testing

A 70-year-old man was the first patient at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility – and the first person in Oregon – to die from coronavirus, according to the VA and the Oregon Health Authority.

Senators press VA about preparedness for coronavirus pandemic

A dozen senators squeezed the Department of Veterans Affairs for more information Friday about how the agency has prepared for its “fourth mission”: to provide emergency medical care for all Americans in times of crises.

Honor Flight cancels trips to DC because of coronavirus

The Honor Flight Network, which brings veterans from across the country to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C, canceled trips through April, citing concerns about the coronavirus.

VA proposes new rules for delayed caregiver support program

The Department of Veterans Affairs published new rules Friday for its caregiver support program, putting the agency one step closer to expanding benefits to more veteran caregivers after months of delays.

Two senators want more vetting of foreign military students in wake of Pensacola attack

Two Republican senators introduced legislation Thursday that would restrict foreign military students from obtaining firearms and establish a more thorough vetting process for the students before they are allowed access to U.S. military bases.

Report: VA unlawfully denies health care access for veterans with 'bad paper'

Rather than telling veterans with other-than-honorable discharges to fill out applications for health care, sending a written denial and informing them about their options to appeal, VA staff often rejects them on the spot, a new report says.

Trump to award retired Gen. Jack Keane the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army, served as a paratrooper in the Vietnam War and later commanded American troops around the globe, including in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia.

Screening procedures at NAS Pensacola didn’t cover international students

Garry Reid, director for defense intelligence, said the Pentagon is “overly reliant” on the Department of State’s vetting procedures for foreign military students who enter the United States and access U.S. military bases, and the agencies fail to share information.

Wilkie promises diligence in effort to expand Agent Orange benefits

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie promised Thursday he's not stalling an effort to add four conditions to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange – a move that would grant benefits to tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans.

VA budget increase comes at expense of safety net programs, lawmaker says

While the Department of Veterans Affairs is one of only two agencies set to get a financial boost under President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal, Democrats on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs criticized his administration Thursday for cutting safety net programs that affect veterans, as well as the wider American population.

Man arrested after trying to blow up vehicle in Pentagon parking lot, feds say

Police arrested Matthew Dmitri Richardson, 19, of Fayetteville, Ark., on charges of maliciously attempting to damage and destroy by means of fire. He was set to make his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon.

Senators demand investigation into Wilkie’s handling of sexual assault case at the VA

Six senators are demanding an investigation into how the Department of Veterans Affairs handled an alleged sexual assault at its Washington, D.C., hospital, prompted by reports that Secretary Robert Wilkie attempted to discredit the veteran who reported the assault.

Suspicious man poking around Pentagon parking lot is arrested at Arlington cemetery

A man acting suspiciously in the Pentagon parking lot Monday led police on a chase before being captured and arrested at Arlington National Cemetery, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

VA ‘negligent’ in veteran’s parking-lot suicide, mother says

The mother of a Navy veteran who killed himself in the parking lot of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit this week, accusing the VA of negligence in her son’s death.

Democrats accuse Trump of 'stonewalling' benefits tied to Agent Orange for Vietnam vets

More than 100 Democrats in Congress accused President Donald Trump this week of stonewalling benefits for thousands of Vietnam War veterans. They urged Trump to add four conditions to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

DOD proposes stripping Stars and Stripes’ funding in 2021 budget request

Pentagon officials first informed Stars and Stripes’ leadership of the proposed budget cuts to the news organization Monday morning, after The Wall Street Journal published a story identifying the planned funding reduction.

Veterans groups urge Trump to intervene on Agent Orange decision

Seven of the country’s largest veterans organizations have asked the President to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms to the list of conditions presumed to be caused by chemical herbicides used in the Vietnam War.

Trump's budget plan calls for another increase in VA spending

The president proposed $109.5 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, including $90 billion for medical care. Additionally, the VA has about $134 billion in mandatory funding to be spent on veterans’ benefits.

Military families take the fight for special-needs education to Capitol Hill

Military spouses helped draft the Promise Act, which would require the military to offer legal help for families with special-needs children. It also aims to increase transparency about how school districts spend money on legal battles with military families.

Senator quizzes VA about delaying Agent Orange decision

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged a top Department of Veterans Affairs health official Wednesday to fast-track benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering from multiple diseases thought to be caused by the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

Cost, usage of VA Mission Act still uncertain

Eight months after the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new program to connect veterans with private-sector doctors, the agency doesn’t know how many appointments have been completed or how much it’s costing taxpayers.

'I'm not the same': Hurdles remain for troops, veterans with TBI despite increase in awareness

Iraq War veteran Brian McGough said he gets headaches every week. “People should understand that the range of complications that come with traumatic brain injury are more than just headaches,” McGough said. “Even mild cases can cause ... memory and concentration issues, seizures, vision problems, anger issues … I’m not the same as I was.”

House and Senate weigh different approaches to tackling veteran suicide crisis

A Senate panel advanced legislation Wednesday that aims to help prevent veteran suicide — making it one of three bills designed to tackle the crisis, each with a different approach and all awaiting congressional action.

FDA expands access to ecstasy drug for PTSD therapy

“I already had five suicide attempts," Iraq War veteran Jonathan Lubecky said. "I put a gun to my head twice and pulled the trigger. I figured I was going to die anyway, that I might as well try ecstasy. And then it worked.”

Case dropped, no charges filed in alleged assault of House staff member at VA hospital in DC

Federal authorities filed no charges after an investigation into a reported assault of a congressional staff member at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, and the case is now considered closed, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Wednesday.


GI Bill students could see changes in housing allowance

The Department of Veterans Affairs implemented changes Dec. 1 to its process for calculating student veterans’ housing allowances — a move that sets up 80,000 GI Bill recipients to get different amounts in the new semester than they did last year.

Minneapolis VA hospital is cited again for failures in patient suicide

The Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Minneapolis could have prevented the suicide of a patient in 2018 who repeatedly told staff, “I want to die,” according to a watchdog report released Wednesday.

Bill would give $250 million to local veterans offices to fight suicide

Four senators introduced a measure Wednesday that would give $250 million in federal funding over the next five years to local government employees responsible for helping veterans process claims for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

LGBT groups criticize NDAA deal that omits repeal of military transgender ban

Multiple organizations that defend LGBT rights denounced Tuesday an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the annual defense bill that omits a reversal of President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.

New voice-activated phone app strives to prevent military sexual assaults

A new mobile app claims to activate at the sound of a safe word and immediately alert a user’s friends, family and 911 in an emergency, as well as share the GPS location and livestream audio and video to selected contacts.

Senate legislation looks for link between veteran suicides and prescription drugs

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, introduced the Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act of 2019, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct an independent, expert study on VA patients who died by suicide or from a drug overdose during the past five years.

‘Difficult questions, daunting data:’ Senators put focus on suicides among young veterans, service members

The Pentagon’s annual suicide report, released in September, showed service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted men younger than 30. That population makes up about 46% of the military population but accounted for 60% of suicide deaths.

Pentagon OKs new breast cancer screenings for Tricare users

The Defense Department will add new technology for breast cancer screenings to its Tricare coverage after female veterans in Congress pushed the Pentagon to make it available to active-duty service members, retirees and their families.

Female veterans in Congress want newer breast cancer screening technology for Tricare users

Active-duty service members and other women who use Tricare for their medical treatment would benefit from the latest technology for breast cancer screening under new legislation expected to be introduced Thursday in the House and the Senate.

Thousands of student veterans will get less money as part of Forever GI Bill change

About 59,000 veterans are expected to receive increased living stipends, but about 21,000 will get less money, the VA estimated. GI Bill benefits go to about 500,000 students each semester.

New study shows veteran benefit discrepancies between states

The Center for a New American Security has created an online database that allows veterans to search for and compare state benefits. The tool was launched Monday.

Time runs short as advocates seek state funeral for last living WWII Medal of Honor recipient

Founded in 2017, the State Funeral for World War II Veterans wants President Donald Trump to approve a state funeral for the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, only two of whom remain alive.

Native American veterans finally get audience with Congress

Native American leaders traveled from across the country this week to share their concerns with lawmakers about veterans’ barriers to health care – the first forum of its kind they’ve been granted in three decades.

'Keep the pressure on': Michelle Obama urges more support for military caregivers

Former First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged military families and elected officials this week to “keep the pressure on” the country’s leaders to expand the support and understanding of those who care for injured and ill veterans and service members.

Trump’s VA whistleblower office ‘floundered’ in its mission, investigators say

An office within the Department of Veterans Affairs that is responsible for protecting whistleblowers and investigating misconduct took “troubling” actions, was confused about its mission and retaliated against those it was tasked to protect.

Gun safety group recommends ‘red flag’ laws to curb veteran suicides

Everytown for Gun Safety, the country’s largest gun control advocacy organization, released a report that includes a set of recommendations designed to place barriers between veterans in crisis and their firearms.

Q & A

Shulkin: 'We need a reset in the way that things work in Washington'

Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin released a tell-all book Tuesday about his time in President Donald Trump’s administration, detailing everything from his interview in Trump Tower to his firing-by-tweet 14 months later.

Shulkin warns 'subversive' culture at VA is leading department toward 'grave danger'

In a tell-all book about his time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin blames a group of political rivals for plotting his demise and warns of “grave danger” ahead for veterans’ health care.

Paving the way: The 6888th all-female, all-black unit inspires others

For over an hour Monday, dozens of female soldiers and veterans at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting in Washington took turns shaking the hand of Indiana Hunt-Martin, a 97-year-old World War II veteran whom many of them credited for “paving the way” for their service.

Real people, events inspire military storylines in NBC show 'This Is Us'

The focus on real people and true events in the military-centric storylines of the Emmy-winning TV show “This Is Us” is largely due to technical consultant James LaPorta, a Marine Corps veteran who used stories of servicemembers and veterans he knew or wrote about, as well as his own experiences, to help the writers shape season four.

‘There is hope and meaning moving forward’: Sister becomes advocate after brother’s suicide at VA

In the 18 months since her younger brother killed himself in the parking lot of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Alissa Harrington has joined a support network, passed the bar exam, become an advocate for veteran suicide prevention and continued to share his story.

VA is millions over budget, years behind on cemetery projects

The Department of Veterans Affairs is at least $17 million over budget and years behind schedule on multiple projects to build new veterans cemeteries, a federal watchdog reported this week.

House lawmakers argue proposed change to food stamps would harm veterans

President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing changes to SNAP that would result in an estimated 3 million people losing food assistance — a savings of $2.5 billion each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

173 lawmakers urge Trump to secure return of journalist Austin Tice

Following a campaign Monday to raise awareness on Capitol Hill about imprisoned American journalist Austin Tice, 173 lawmakers signed a letter to President Donald Trump, pleading for help to secure Tice’s return.

House committee urges change after staff member reports assault at VA hospital in DC

Andrea Goldstein, a Navy veteran and senior policy adviser for Congress’ new Women Veterans Task Force, said she was assaulted by a man inside the VA Medical Center in Washington on Sept. 20.

VA misses deadline, delays expansion of caregiver benefits

Caregivers for veterans of conflicts before the 9/11 terrorist attacks won’t receive congressionally mandated benefits until summer 2020 at the earliest, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday.

Army proposes restricting eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery

Under rules now, most veterans and military retirees are eligible for either above- or below-ground burial in Arlington. The Army will begin a monthslong rule-making process to change the criteria.

Veterans plead with Trump to lift delay on Blue Water veterans claims

Vietnam veteran Bobby Daniels has between 24 to 32 months to live, and he’s using some of those to ensure that his wife receives the benefits she’s owed when he’s gone.

Journalists, students press lawmakers to help secure return of Marine vet Austin Tice

Austin Tice, a former Marine captain who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, was reporting in Damascus when he was abducted in 2012, and he’s believed to be held by the Syrian government or allied forces.

VA says veteran suicide rate is 17 per day after change in calculation

The VA released its annual National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report on Friday, tracking the changes from year to year. The 2019 report includes data from 2017, the most recent available.