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

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.”

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.

Construction begins Saturday on Native American Veterans Memorial

Work begins Saturday on the National Mall to establish a long-sought memorial recognizing the military service of Native Americans – service that many in the United States remain unaware of, according to leaders of the project.

Q&A with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns recently spoke with Stars and Stripes about his new series, “Country Music,” which premiered Sept. 15 on PBS and begins airing Sept. 21 on AFN-Spectrum. Part of the interview is below, with his responses lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Country and conflict: Among documentary's musical threads is story of Americans at war

Country music has attempted through its songs to reflect the happenings of its time, relaying the sense of duty felt during World War II, the national divisions caused by the Vietnam War and the renewed patriotism following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers want to expand use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for vets with PTSD, brain injury

Two lawmakers introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Wednesday that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury – an unproven treatment that some veterans have praised as a useful tool in their recovery.

Cybercriminals target military online to set up impostor 'romance scams'

Romance scams are part of a new 200-page report released Tuesday by Vietnam Veterans of America, which has spent the past two years on a study of online trolls and their tendency to target veterans and servicemembers.

VA secretary, congressman feud over office space inside Florida hospital

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie accused a Florida congressman of misleading the public Friday after the lawmaker expressed outrage at being evicted from his congressional office inside a VA hospital.

Lawmakers evicted from offices inside Florida VA hospitals

The Department of Veterans Affairs sent eviction notices to six members of Congress from Florida at the end of August, booting them and their staffs out of their offices inside VA hospitals in West Palm Beach and Orlando.

Court: VA wrongly withheld money from vets, must reimburse them for emergency care costs

A federal court ruled Tuesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly denied reimbursements for some veterans who received emergency medical treatment at non-VA facilities — a ruling that could cost the agency billions of dollars.

House lawmakers aim to provide free birth control for female veterans

The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act would do away with copayments for birth control, saving female veterans a total of $400,000 each year, according to VA estimates.

Lawmaker blasts VA for 'second chance' given to VA doctor found drunk on the job

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., urged the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Tuesday to investigate how the Department of Veterans Affairs handled the case of a pathologist in Fayetteville, Ark., who is accused of misdiagnosing patients while he was intoxicated on the job.

VA closes facilities, cancels appointments in three states as the agency braces for Dorian

According to the National Hurricane Center, Dorian’s effects are predicted to be felt along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina from Tuesday through Thursday.

‘Take care of yourself and your family now:’ Florida bases, VA hospitals prepare for hurricane

Military bases and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Florida were preparing Friday for what’s predicted to be a Category 4 hurricane making landfall over the Labor Day weekend.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of veterans' affairs committee, to resign at end of 2019

Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced Wednesday that he will resign at the end of the year because of ongoing health problems.

Several suspicious deaths at West Virginia VA now under investigation

Details of potential wrongdoing were outlined last week in a wrongful death claim filed against the VA by the family of retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott. McDermott, a Vietnam War veteran, died April 9, 2018, at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.

DEA to increase number of marijuana growers for research

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Monday it plans to increase the number of producers who can grow marijuana for scientific research — action taken after a lawsuit against the DEA filed by researchers studying the drug as a potential treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veteran's suicide reveals unsafe practices at West Palm Beach VA

A veteran’s suicide at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Florida earlier this year prompted an investigation that revealed unsafe practices and inoperable cameras in the mental health unit where the patient received treatment.

Trump proclaims controversial new drug has 'incredible' potential to prevent veteran suicide

Spravato was approved in March by the Food and Drug Administration to treat severe depression. It’s a nasal spray based on the anesthetic ketamine, which is designated as a “club drug” by the National Institute on Drug Abuses.

Trump directs agencies to create faster debt forgiveness process for disabled vets

President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum Wednesday that directs the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education to quickly forgive the federal student loan debt of 25,000 totally and permanently disabled veterans.

Union files grievance with VA over new smoking ban

A union representing Department of Veterans Affairs employees filed a grievance over the agency’s recent decision to include workers in a smoking ban that will soon go into effect at VA facilities nationwide.

VA sued over private emails between former top official and ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’

The lawsuit claims the VA’s lack of effort to preserve or recover the emails is in violation of the Federal Records Act and Administrative Procedures Act.


Washington in 1969 hosted largest antiwar protest in US history

While hundreds of thousands of demonstrators converged on Washington in November 1969 to show their growing disdain for America’s involvement in Vietnam, Sgt. Grant Coates was bunkered in the Commerce Department with his fellow soldiers, peeking out windows to catch glimpses at the activity outside.

Lawmakers urge VA to fix rejected emergency care claims that wrongly cost vets $53 million

The VA Office of Inspector General discovered the VA wrongfully rejected thousands of emergency-care claims during a five-month period in 2017, affecting an estimated 17,400 veterans who were stuck with varying medical bills that totaled $53.3 million.

Report: VA wrongfully denied $53 million in veterans' emergency care claims

The errors affected an estimated 17,400 veterans who were stuck with a total $53.3 million in medical bills that the Department of Veterans Affairs should have paid, the VA Office of Inspector General reported.

Veteran dies by suicide at VA parking lot in North Carolina

The veteran, who has not been identified publicly, died just before 9 a.m. in the visitor parking lot of the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, N.C., according to a statement from the hospital. The Asheville Police Department is investigating.

Five years after Phoenix scandal, VA still doesn’t keep reliable wait-time data

The Department of Veterans Affairs still fails to reliably track wait times for veterans seeking health care in the wake of a national scandal that five years ago found more than 200 veterans died while waiting for appointments, a federal watchdog agency reported.

Lawsuit filed against VA secretary over delaying benefits for Blue Water Navy vets

Military Veterans Advocacy and the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association filed the lawsuit, arguing Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie doesn’t have the authority to delay work on the claims until Jan. 1, 2020.

Partisan fighting surrounds effort to stop VA from hiring child care workers charged with crimes

The legislation would prohibit the VA from contracting with a child care provider if they employ anyone who has been charged with certain crimes, unless they were found innocent and the provider suspended the employee while their case was going through the criminal justice system.

Department of Veterans Affairs’ new ‘smoke-free’ policy doesn’t apply to employees

While veterans, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors will be prohibited from smoking on VA grounds, employees will keep their smoking privileges because of a memorandum of understanding between the VA and the American Federation of Government Employees.

Pew report: Most veterans say the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not worth fighting

About two-thirds of veterans think the Iraq War was not worth fighting, and more than 50% think the same about the war in Afghanistan, according to the Pew Research Center.

Survey: Veterans more supportive than other Americans of Trump’s national security decisions

President Donald Trump, who often has struggled with low approval ratings, has more support from veterans than other Americans when it comes to his national security decisions.

Department of Veterans Affairs facilities to be smoke-free by October

The smoke-free policy applies to patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at VA facilities, and it prohibits cigarettes, cigars, pipes, vape pens and e-cigarettes.

VA secretary moves to permit public display of religious symbols

Citing a need to protect religious liberty, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie issued new policies Wednesday permitting displays of religious and spiritual symbols in VA facilities. VA facilities are also now allowed to accept donations of religious literature and symbols.

Veterans to hand out John McCain shirts at July Fourth celebration in DC

VoteVets, a liberal advocacy group founded by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, are behind the effort to distribute shirts Thursday featuring the USS John McCain, a Navy destroyer, along with the words, “Big Bad John.”

VA delays decision to add more diseases to Agent Orange list

Researchers with the National Academy of Medicine released a report stating there was “suggestive” evidence that eight diseases — including prostate cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson-like syndromes — could be caused by Agent Orange

VA policy restricts ‘meaningful access’ to benefits for Native Americans

Among a host of inequities, the most important problem to address is a VA policy that prevents tribes from having their own accredited advocates who can log into VA systems and help veterans and their families with benefits claims — a process that is notoriously time-consuming and complex.

Trump plans phone call about VA Mission Act with 10,000 veterans next week

President Donald Trump will address 10,000 veterans by phone next week about a new law that aims to expand veterans’ access to private-sector doctors.

Pushing for VA policy change, congresswoman opens up about sexual assault

Rep. Annie Kuster's comments came during a hearing about the Department of Veterans Affairs and its decisions about disability benefits for veterans who claim they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder related to military sexual assault.

A bittersweet victory: Veteran behind Blue Water case sees its resolution after 13 years

Alfred Procopio Jr. said he learned perseverance from his parents, who “never took no for an answer.” And now the name “Procopio” represents a major victory for tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans, thanks to the case of Procopio v. Wilkie.

North Carolina VA hospital bought $2.3 million surgical robot without permission

A Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in North Carolina spent $2.3 million on a surgical robot without approval, a federal watchdog reported Wednesday.

ICE fails to give veterans special consideration before deporting them, GAO says

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t track how many veterans it deports or consider a person’s military service before deporting them, a federal watchdog agency reported Thursday.

DOJ drops case against benefits for Blue Water Navy vets

With the court challenge apparently over, tens of thousands of veterans – with estimates up to 90,000 – are in line to receive VA benefits.

VA to expand veterans’ access to private medical care

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday will launch a major expansion of veterans’ access to private doctors – a reform effort President Donald Trump has promised since his 2016 campaign.

Website matches veteran entrepreneurs with businesses

What has traditionally been a strong entrepreneurial trend among veterans is facing a generational decline. One veteran's solution is something like a dating website, but instead of logging on to find a love connection, wannabe business owners can look for a match among companies for sale.

Medical marijuana for vets to be highlighted during Rolling Thunder event

Veterans Cannabis Project, which lobbies for easier access to medical marijuana, partnered with Rolling Thunder’s primary sponsor, Harley-Davidson of Washington, D.C., to host a free barbecue and concert that aims to rally support for marijuana advocacy.

VA deputy nominee praises accountability law that failed to fire senior leader

The nominee for second-in-command at the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that the Trump administration’s controversial Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act has helped the agency become a “rising star” of the federal government.

House again passes 'Blue Water' Navy benefits bill with unanimous support

For the second time in less than a year, the House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would extend benefits to Vietnam War sailors who have fought for years to prove they were exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

House lawmakers question VA’s ability to meet deadline for GI Bill changes

Department of Veterans Affairs officials tried to assuage House lawmakers' doubts about the agency’s ability to successfully implement changes to veterans’ education benefits by a December 1 deadline.