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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 picks Wilkie to lead VA in surprise announcement

President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement during a public speech Friday morning at the White House about prisons and the criminal justice system. He said Robert Wilkie, currently serving on an interim basis, has done an “incredible job.”

House approves plan to increase private-sector care for veterans, fix VA funding crisis

House lawmakers approved sweeping legislation Wednesday that changes rules dictating when veterans can go outside the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical treatment, which fulfills a promise made by President Donald Trump to give veterans more choice over their health care.


Trump signs executive order to push federal agencies to hire more military spouses

Based on a survey, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated the unemployment rate for military spouses was 16 percent in 2017. The overall unemployment rate in the United States was 3.9 percent as of April.


House panel supports Agent Orange coverage for ‘Blue Water’ Navy veterans

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted unanimously to send a bill to the full House that would provide benefits to “Blue Water” Navy veterans, who were aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships and potentially exposed to Agent Orange.


Lawmakers advance bill pushing VA to research marijuana

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted unanimously to advance the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act – a bipartisan attempt to encourage the VA to study the drug as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and other ailments that disproportionately affect veterans.


House committee approves extensive VA reform deal

The bill, titled the VA Mission Act, would alter eligibility criteria for veterans to access private-sector health care, extend benefits for veteran caregivers and initiate a review of VA infrastructure, among other changes.


US Border Patrol eyes murals painted by deported veterans on Mexico border wall

Navy veteran Amos Gregory, a muralist working in San Francisco, was inspired in 2013 to paint an upside-down flag on the border wall dividing San Diego and Tijuana — a distress signal that Gregory described as the perfect symbol to represent the plight of deported veterans. Over the years, the mural has become a backdrop for their fight to return to the U.S.


Lawmakers launch new effort to provide Agent Orange coverage for 'Blue Water' Navy vets

The VA has argued there is not enough evidence to link Agent Orange to sailors aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers and others ships.


Lawmakers try again for major Veterans Affairs reforms

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced legislation Thursday that’s similar to a deal that failed in March to be included in a massive spending bill that Congress passed to avoid a government shutdown.


Support grows for ecstasy-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD

Study results published Tuesday show MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, was effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for some veterans – boosting evidence to make the psychedelic drug an approved treatment.


Acting VA secretary: Dirty Salt Lake City clinic demonstrates need for more private care

The photos, which quickly spread on social media over the weekend, show a dirty VA clinic room in Salt Lake City with an overflowing trash can, medical instruments strewn on the counter and a filthy sink.


Special Counsel: Bedford VA hospital knowingly exposed employees, veterans to asbestos

Whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Bedford, Mass. alerted the special counsel to the contamination last year, and the VA Office of Occupational Safety and Health followed up with an investigation.


WWII pilot to get Arlington burial 74 years after he went MIA

Lt. William Punnell was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in July 1944 while on a mission to strafe Japanese targets on the Republic of Palau. His family never imagined he would be found.


Lawsuit claims Trump’s selection of Wilkie as acting VA secretary was 'unlawful'

The lawsuit argues VA Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman is the appropriate person to fill in as acting secretary until the Senate confirms a permanent leader. The Senate confirmed Bowman in August to take the No. 2 position.


Who’s next? Possible picks for VA secretary

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a White House physician, withdrew Thursday from consideration as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaving the big question: Who’s next?


ANALYSIS

Allegations against Jackson sank his VA secretary nomination – next, his career?

At least two lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee are calling for the Defense Department to look into the allegations before they’ll consider Ronny Jackson’s scheduled promotion to two-star admiral.


Veterans seek an end to ‘tumultuous chapter’ at the VA

To prevent any more damage to the Department of Veterans Affairs' reputation and delay in selecting a new VA secretary, lawmakers and veterans groups are calling on President Donald Trump to accept their input before naming his next nominee.


Ronny Jackson withdraws from nomination as VA Secretary

The decision came after details emerged late Wednesday of allegations made by 23 of Jackson’s current and former coworkers. They said he drank on duty and handed out prescription medication without keeping records of it. Jackson denies the claims.


New allegations blast Jackson as 'Candyman' who drank on duty, doled out opioids

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a White House physician and nominee for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, came under scrutiny Tuesday, when the Senate committee postponed his confirmation hearing because of the new information.


White House releases VA nominee's evaluations in attempt to prove his merit

The White House on Tuesday evening released multiple hard-copy evaluations and inspector general reports about Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, in an attempt to vindicate him after allegations emerged about his professional conduct.


Trump discourages Jackson from continuing in 'ugly' VA confirmation process

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he still supported Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson as his nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, even as Jackson faces allegations of creating a hostile work environment as White House physician, overprescribing medications and drinking on the job.


Senate postpones Ronny Jackson’s confirmation hearing, asks Trump for more information

Senate lawmakers postponed the confirmation hearing for Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, amid an investigation into allegations of his conduct as the White House physician.


DC VA hospital gets another temporary director

The Department of Veterans Affairs appointed Adam Robinson on Monday to lead its D.C. hospital for about four months, making him the third temporary leader of the facility since its director was fired last year.


Veterans Affairs' chief information officer resigns

The chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned Tuesday, prompting questions about what will happen with the agency’s planned modernization efforts.


VA secretary nominee Jackson tells senator he won’t privatize the agency

Following his first meeting with Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician and VA secretary nominee, Sen. Jon Tester said Jackson’s views on private-sector medical care fell in line with the views of former VA Secretary David Shulkin.


Bipartisan group of lawmakers push VA to research marijuana

A group of Republicans and Democrats in the House introduced a bill Tuesday that would clarify the Department of Veterans Affairs has the authority to study medical marijuana and incite the agency to initiate research.


New leader takes over effort to establish Global War on Terror memorial

The nonprofit behind the effort to establish a national memorial dedicated to the Global War on Terror got a new director Monday after the group’s founder left in mid-March.


Acting VA secretary wants Congress to act on Choice reform

Robert Wilkie wrote in a statement that the VA and Congress need to come together to overhaul the VA Choice program, which veterans use to receive private-sector medical care.


Larry Connell is out as director of DC VA hospital

The director of the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington was reassigned Monday amid ongoing problems at the hospital and an investigation into whether his appointment broke federal protocols.


Government groups disagree about putting new Desert Storm memorial on National Mall

The National Capital Planning Commission unanimously chose a location on the National Mall for the new National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial, putting the group at odds with another commission that also has a say in the selection process.


VA rejects Shulkin's warning of privatization threat

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued an official news release Thursday afternoon, attempting to debunk warnings of any effort in President Donald Trump’s administration to privatize the agency’s vast health care system.


‘Truth can be transformative': Veterans team with songwriter to share stories of war

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Jennifer Marino came face to face with acclaimed folk singer Mary Gauthier by chance. That meeting would mark the start of a years-long relationship with Gauthier that would result in several co-written songs about Marino’s experiences with war and coming home.


ANALYSIS

'Culture of complacency': DC veterans hospital plagued by problems despite claims of progress

A broken refrigerator in the blood bank. Dirty syringe bottles. Critical staff and supply shortages that led to canceled procedures. Unsanitary equipment and rooms in disarray. All were found in the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington.


ANALYSIS

Communication breakdown adds to VA woes

Several hospitals in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system have been the subject of scandal in the past year, ranging from unsanitary conditions in Washington to misconduct in Roseburg, Ore., and poor patient care in Manchester, N.H.


New acting VA secretary sends video message to agency employees

New acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie addressed VA employees Wednesday in his first public message since President Donald Trump appointed him to the post last week.


TriWest CEO warns of looming financial catastrophe if VA Choice runs out of money

TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs to arrange private-sector care for veterans through the VA Choice program, warned Tuesday in an apocalyptic letter to lawmakers that another funding shortfall could lead to restricted care for veterans, as well as layoffs and financial ruin for the alliance.


Veterans group calls for Trump to remove acting VA secretary

A large, national veterans organization is calling on President Donald Trump to remove new acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie amid confusion over who should be running the agency legally.


Fired VA chief Shulkin: ‘They saw me as an obstacle to privatization’

David Shulkin spoke out Thursday morning, hours after being fired as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and blamed his ouster on White House appointees who seek to dismantle the agency.


'We don’t know this guy': Lawmakers, vets groups express concern over VA secretary nominee

Among the dozens who weighed in shortly after President Donald Trump announced his nomination of a new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, there was one constant: There remained many questions about Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson and the direction that he would take the VA.


VA Secretary Shulkin fired; White House physician selected to replace him

After weeks of speculation that David Shulkin would lose his job, President Donald Trump finally announced his decision to dismiss him through the president’s preferred mode of communication: a tweet.


Veterans join March For Our Lives to push for gun reforms

A few dozen veterans gathered at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday in support of March for Our Lives. Many more veterans were likely dispersed through the large crowd, said Air Force veteran Pam Campos, who organized the veteran contingent at the Washington march.


Veterans to come together at 'March For Our Lives' events across the country

The mass shooting at a Florida high school last month and subsequent social media postings that made assumptions about veterans and guns inspired former Army Sgt. Kate Logan to speak out.


Restrictions on VA dog testing included in massive spending bill

New rules to prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical experiments on dogs was tucked into a massive spending package that Congress formulated to avoid a government shutdown this week.


Mental health care for veterans with 'bad paper' included in spending bill

A measure to increase mental and behavioral health care for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges – services now denied to many of them through the Department of Veterans Affairs – is included in a massive spending bill that Congress unveiled Wednesday night.


VA reforms removed from massive spending bill

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., leaders on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, predicted earlier Wednesday that the reforms would not be included in the final version of the spending bill.


House committee advances protections for veterans’ credit scores

An effort gained momentum in Congress on Wednesday to protect veterans’ credit scores when the Department of Veterans Affairs is slow to reimburse private-sector doctors for their medical care.


Support is growing for a new VA division dedicated to employment and education

An organization representing student veterans went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to urge the creation of a new division within the Department of Veterans Affairs dedicated to veterans’ education and employment, along with a new senior administration official to lead it.


Veterans fight to keep major VA reforms in omnibus spending bill

A massive spending deal that Congress struggled to resolve by Tuesday morning purportedly contains extensive reforms for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including an overhaul to the controversial and much-debated Veterans Choice program.


VA delays distribution of veteran ID cards

Thousands of veterans who started applying for new identification cards through the Department of Veterans Affairs in November won’t see them until April, according to the agency.


Commission votes against National Mall site for Desert Storm memorial

The location of the future Desert Storm War Memorial remains unclear after one of the commissions tasked with choosing the site voted against organizers’ top choice Thursday.


VA facing another shortfall in Choice funding

Funds could be depleted by late May for a Department of Veterans Affairs program that allows veterans to receive private-sector medical care, VA Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday.


Amid talks of replacement, VA Secretary Shulkin reaffirms commitment to the job

The abrupt firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday triggered multiple news reports about who was President Donald Trump’s next target. Shulkin’s name quickly rose to the top of the list.


Inspector General: Poor leadership led to widespread problems at DC VA

A culture of complacency at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Washington D.C. allowed widespread failures to persist for years, putting veterans at risk and weakening core functions of the hospital, according to new findings from the VA Inspector General’s Office.


New ‘HEAL team’ seeks to find, help veterans in need of mental health care

The veterans organization AMVETS announced an estimated $700,000 suicide-prevention initiative Tuesday to find veterans who could be struggling with a mental health crisis and get them treatment.


Veterans with PTSD sue Navy over claims of biased discharges

By the age of 21, Marine Corps Cpl. Tyson Manker led infantrymen into battle in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His actions as a Marine garnered him the Presidential Unit Citation and other awards, yet the military doesn’t consider his service as honorable.


Study: Private-sector medical providers in New York unprepared to treat veterans

The study, released Thursday, lends context to an ongoing debate in Congress about how aggressively veterans’ medical care should be outsourced to the private sector.


IG finds no evidence of email hacking related to travel scandal

The former Department of Veterans Affairs chief of staff was the subject of email “spoofing,” investigators determined, but the incident was not related to findings that she misled an ethics official in an email last summer – a connection that was implied by the VA secretary.


Republican lawmaker says VA should study potential benefits of marijuana

The comments from Rep. Phil Roe come as public support for medical marijuana from individual veterans and major veterans service organizations has grown during the past year.


Shulkin looks to shake off travel controversy and move forward with VA reform

David Shulkin, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, hasn’t had an easy week. Or at least that’s how he summed up the past 10 days.


Combat veterans push for gun reform: ‘This isn’t right’

Army veteran Dennis Magnasco used to get frustrated with friends who called for gun reform. They weren’t experts on weapons, he thought. They didn’t understand the nuances. That changed in October when a shooter killed dozens in Las Vegas with semiautomatic rifles, modified with bump fire stocks. Listening to audio of the shooting transported Magnasco back to Afghanistan, shaking him to the core.


Congressman on VA caregiver benefits: ‘We can do this right’

In 2010, Congress created the VA caregiver program for veterans who sustained serious injuries after 9/11. Approximately 26,000 caregivers who are enrolled in the program receive monthly stipends, as well as other benefits.


Senators troubled by VA secretary’s response to IG report, ask for transparency

Four Democratic senators said Thursday that they are troubled by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s response to findings of ethical violations connected to his taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last summer.


Trump plans to nominate Army veteran Paul Lawrence as undersecretary for VA benefits

President Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday night to nominate a longtime management consultant to fill a top spot at the Department of Veterans Affairs that’s remained unfilled for nearly three years.


Veterans groups rally behind David Shulkin

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America – groups that regularly advise VA leadership and lawmakers on veterans issues – backed VA Secretary David Shulkin on Monday and decried any attempt to undermine or replace him.


Amid turmoil, VA names new permanent chief of staff

Peter O’Rourke, a Navy and Air Force veteran, has headed the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection since it was created in May. He was previously a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team.


VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson resigns after damning IG report

After two days of turmoil within the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA chief of staff has resigned, following findings that she misled an ethics official into approving expenses for the VA secretary’s wife on a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe.


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.