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

McDonough urges Senate to pass coronavirus relief aid for VA

The bill, titled the American Rescue Plan, totals $1.9 trillion and includes billions in relief aid for the VA. The VA secretary said the money was needed to treat veterans who have put off health care visits during the pandemic.

VA secretary orders review of policies to root out barriers for LGBTQ veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs will review its policies and determine how to make the agency a more welcoming and inclusive place for LGBTQ veterans and employees.

VA officials urge Congress to approve coronavirus relief funding

Department of Veterans Affairs officials urged Congress on Friday to approve President Joe Biden’s proposal for about $15 billion in coronavirus relief aid for the agency.

VA enrolls veterans 'on the spot' in areas where eligible patients have refused vaccines

The Department of Veterans Affairs has immediately enrolled veterans into its health care system in areas where eligible VA patients have refused coronavirus vaccines.

VA pauses debt collections through Sept. 30

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday it would pause debt collections again after billing restarted in January.

Former Sen. Bob Dole to get treatment for advanced-stage lung cancer

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, said Thursday he was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer and would begin treatment Monday.

First lady recommits to helping military children, families

First Lady Jill Biden is renewing her Joining Forces initiative, which she started with former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011 to help military families with employment and education.

More than 10,000 VA patients, 128 employees have now died of coronavirus

The coronavirus has now killed more than 10,000 Department of Veterans Affairs patients and 128 VA employees, but active cases of the virus were falling across the VA system after peaking last month in what experts called a “second wave” related to the holiday season.

VA extends its ban on evictions and foreclosures to June 30

The extension was made as part of an action by President Joe Biden on Tuesday morning to extend a ban on home foreclosures for federally backed mortgages. The extension includes all properties secured by VA-guaranteed loans.

House VA committee advances $15 billion portion of Biden’s American Rescue Plan

Most of the money allotted to the Department of Veterans Affairs from the American Rescue Plan would be used for veterans’ health care, staffing, suicide prevention, research and women’s health. It allows up to $4 billion to be spent on private-sector health care for veterans.

McDonough is sworn in as VA secretary; calls it the 'honor of my lifetime'

Denis McDonough was sworn in as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday in a ceremony conducted by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Senate confirms McDonough as VA secretary, 87 to 7

Denis McDonough is the second VA secretary to not receive a unanimous or unopposed confirmation vote in the Senate. Former VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was also not confirmed unanimously.

Past month saw 25% of VA's patient deaths from the pandemic

As of Friday, the virus had killed 9,416 patients -- more than 2,300 who have died since Jan. 7. More than 1,100 VA patients have died in the past two weeks, making it the deadliest two-week period for veterans so far during the pandemic.

Debt collection goes on while VA ‘exploring options’ to reinstate pause

Dat Tran, acting secretary of the VA, said in a statement Monday that the department was “exploring options to pause federal collections on compensation and pension overpayments, and medical and education-related debts.”

VA secretary nominee Denis McDonough moves forward in the confirmation process

If confirmed by the Senate, McDonough will take the helm of the second-largest federal agency, which operates America’s largest health care system.

VA sends mobile Vet Centers to provide counseling on Capitol Hill

Two mobile Vet Centers will set up near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to provide free mental health services to Capitol Police, lawmakers, congressional staff and National Guard members who need counseling after the Jan. 6 attack in Washington.

Veterans groups ask Congress to double VA's construction budget

Several national veterans’ organizations are urging Congress to give the Department of Veterans Affairs nearly $4 billion in the next federal budget for overdue construction on medical facilities, doubling its current budget for those projects.

National Guard mission at Capitol counts toward GI Bill benefits

Thousands of National Guard soldiers who deployed to Washington this month after the deadly mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol earned education benefits for the mission, a National Guard leader clarified Thursday.

Republican senators announce support for Biden’s VA nominee, Denis McDonough

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., the Republican leader of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced his support Wednesday for Denis McDonough to become the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Top priority for VA secretary nominee is getting veterans through pandemic

Denis McDonough, President Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, listed one of his top priorities Wednesday as “getting our veterans through this pandemic.”

Tester takes lead of Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., will take the helm of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday when the committee meets for the first time in the new congressional session.

Trump’s former doctor, now in Congress, is assigned to the House Armed Services Committee

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, the previous White House physician for former President Donald Trump, is one of the newest members of the House Armed Services Committee, after his appointment to the committee Monday.

Video of National Guard troops in DC shows protocol, not protest

A YouTube video titled “Military turns backs to Joe Biden’s motorcade” drew controversy for showing some National Guard members facing away from President Joe Biden's motorcade the morning of his inauguration.

Biden administration takes over at VA’s deadliest moment

While Joe Biden was being sworn in as the country’s 46th president, the VA reported another grim milestone: More than 8,000 patients had died of the virus — 1,000 of those deaths occurring in the last 13 days.

Dat Tran to temporarily lead VA as acting secretary

President Joe Biden on Wednesday named Dat Tran, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Enterprise Integration, to immediately take the helm of the agency.

Biden names nine members of new VA leadership

President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday announced new leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs – the country’s second-largest federal agency.

VA to vaccinate veteran caregivers after policy change

The Department of Veterans Affairs decided this week it would administer coronavirus vaccinations to veteran caregivers — a population that was not included in the agency’s vaccination strategy.

National veterans groups plan to purge members found guilty in Capitol attack

Multiple veterans and service members are being investigated for their roles in the mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday, and at least two national veterans organizations want to ensure they’re not on their membership lists.

Biden, joined by Obama, Bush and Clinton, will lay a wreath at Arlington after inauguration

President-elect Joe Biden, accompanied by three former presidents, will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery following his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Wilkie won’t resign as VA secretary after Capitol riot

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie won’t resign in the aftermath of the takeover of the U.S. Capitol building, the agency said Friday.

7,000 VA patients have now died of coronavirus

The VA reported 7,099 total deaths Thursday and nearly 16,000 active coronavirus cases. Only seven days into the new year, January is already on pace to be the agency’s deadliest month.

Sweeping veterans bill becomes law, impacting 'every corner' of the community

President Donald Trump signed a sweeping legislative package Tuesday that aims to help veterans facing a variety of challenges, including homelessness, access to care for women and Native Americans, toxic exposure and the coronavirus.

The Smithsonian is searching for military stories from 2020

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is urging Americans to share photos, videos and written stories of 2020 – a historic year that the institution assumes will be of interest to future historians and researchers.

US has administered only 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses; officials acknowledge lagging pace

More than two million Americans have received their first doses of coronavirus vaccines, but officials acknowledged Wednesday that the number fell short of expectations.

Human remains found on Joint Base San Antonio

The base said there is no danger to the base or the community, and there are no active missing persons cases at the installation.

December is already the deadliest month of the pandemic for VA patients

The coronavirus has killed more than 1,000 veterans so far in December, making it the deadliest month for Department of Veterans Affairs patients with nine days remaining until January.

VA to vaccinate patients, staff at 128 additional sites

The Department of Veterans Affairs is readying doses of the Moderna vaccine, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Friday for emergency use.

State-run veterans’ homes are required to report coronavirus cases, deaths under new bill

State-run veterans’ homes will soon be required to share the number of coronavirus cases and deaths at their facilities with the federal government under a bill passed by Congress this week.

Lawmakers urge VA to continue deferring debt collections; agency says it won’t

Republican and Democratic lawmakers called on the Department of Veterans Affairs this week to continue its nine-month pause on billing veterans for medical debts after the agency announced it would start collections again in January.

Congress passes sweeping end-of-year bill impacting 'every corner' of the veteran community

Congress approved a bill Wednesday that increases resources for homeless veterans, creates a Department of Veterans Affairs advisory committee for Native American veterans and mandates that every VA hospital hire a dedicated women’s health provider, among dozens of other measures.

VA releases order of veterans, staff to be vaccinated

The VA is undertaking a plan to distribute vaccines to more than 418,000 employees and 10 million enrolled patients — a task one VA official called a “Herculean effort.”

Biden’s pick for VA secretary vows to 'fight like hell' for veterans

Denis McDonough, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, publicly promised Friday to work as a united team with VA employees and veterans’ service organizations to “fight like hell” for veterans and their families.

VA to restart debt collections after a nine-month pause

VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said veterans will be given an option to make smaller monthly payments on their debt. Veterans facing financial hardship should work with the VA to make special arrangements.

Biden chooses Denis McDonough as Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Denis McDonough, 51, served as deputy national security adviser under Obama and later took the job as Obama’s chief of staff. If confirmed, McDonough would become only the second secretary of Veterans Affairs who is not a veteran.

Minority veterans to receive priority for coronavirus vaccines

Black, Hispanic and Native American veterans will be given priority for receiving coronavirus vaccines once they become available, according to a document published Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

NDAA would add three conditions to VA list of illnesses caused by Agent Orange

The final version includes a measure that would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

VA leader predicts difficulty administering coronavirus vaccines

Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, predicted difficulty Wednesday with administering coronavirus vaccines to its patients, particularly veterans in rural areas.

Coronavirus has now killed more than 5,000 VA patients

The VA reported 5,021 deaths Tuesday, up from 4,017 at the start of November. In addition, 12 VA employees died during November, with total employee deaths up to 74.

VA sees a significant jump in coronavirus cases with more than 2,100 in one week

In total, the virus has killed 4,854 veterans and 74 VA employees as of Friday afternoon, and nearly 108,000 VA patients have tested positive since the pandemic began.

Top Democrat accuses Air Force of interfering in Georgia runoff elections

Rep. Adam Smith suggested the Air Force preemptively announced its preferred locations for a C-130J operating base, saying the timing “raises serious concerns” about the potential influence two Senate runoff elections in Georgia.

Arlington National Cemetery announces revised plans for Wreaths Across America

Arlington National Cemetery will close to the public from Dec. 13 to 19 to allow Christmas wreaths to be placed at 267,000 graves, officials announced Wednesday.

Senators urge Pentagon to test all service members, families for coronavirus

Two U.S. senators are urging the Defense Department to test all service members and their families for the coronavirus in order to contain outbreaks in the military and limit the threat to national security.

Lawmakers call on VA to release a vaccine distribution plan

The Department of Veterans Affairs has not yet publicized a strategy to distribute coronavirus vaccines to its patients and staff once one has been approved, leading some lawmakers to worry that the department has fallen behind states and other federal agencies.

Coronavirus cases among VA patients surpass 13,000

As of Monday, 4,584 veterans had died of the virus — up 12% since the beginning of the month. In addition, 69 VA employees have died, five of them in the past 20 days.

Crisis Line failed to help veteran who died hours after calling, watchdog finds

The veteran died from an overdose on July 4, 2018. Two crisis line responders spoke to the veteran that day but failed to consider his or her risk for overdose and didn’t contact local authorities.

Army agrees to review thousands of 'bad paper' discharges as part of lawsuit settlement

As part of a lawsuit settlement reached Tuesday, the U.S. Army would be required to review and potentially upgrade thousands of other-than-honorable discharges dating back to April 2011.

In reversal, Arlington National Cemetery will host Wreaths Across America event

Arlington National Cemetery will take part in the Wreaths Across America event this year, despite an announcement Monday that the cemetery would abstain from the tradition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

VA tracks suicides among its patients during pandemic, finds no increase

Since the pandemic struck the United States in March, there hasn’t been an increase in suicides or suicide attempts among its patients or visits to VA emergency rooms that were related to suicide attempts, the department said.

Veteran suicides increased again in 2018

The VA compiles its data on a two-year lag and revealed for the first time Thursday the number of suicides in 2018. The average number of veteran suicides increased slightly from 17.5 each day in 2017 to 17.6 in 2018.

Celebrate Veterans Day virtually

Veterans Day typically draws crowds of visitors to the nation’s capital and to events held across the country. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, celebrations this year will look different.

Pandemic prompts change to list of best cities for veterans

Charleston, South Carolina, is the best city for veterans to live in when they leave the military, according to new rankings released Monday by Navy Federal Credit Union.

VA is seeking minority veterans for coronavirus vaccine trials

Several VA hospitals announced this week they were selected to run trials for a vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, part of Johnson & Johnson.

Coronavirus cases among VA patients reach an all-time high

Nearly 6,900 Department of Veterans Affairs patients were battling coronavirus infections Thursday — a record-breaking number of cases for the department.

Number of veterans serving in Congress could slightly decrease after election

Less than half of the 182 veterans running for Congress in Tuesday’s election were declared winners in their races by Wednesday morning — incomplete results that appear likely to mean the overall number of veterans in Congress would keep steady or slightly decrease.

More than 4,000 VA patients have died from coronavirus

As of Monday morning, the VA reported 4,017 deaths among VA patients, with 1,000 of those deaths in the past two months.

Senator: VA is 'playing political games' by withholding veteran suicide report

VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said Friday the report would be released "in the next few weeks." The report was delayed because the department plans to include "a variety of COVID-related data," she said.

Interior Department grants lifetime free access to National Parks for veterans, Gold Star families

Veterans and Gold Star families will be given free lifetime entry into national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands starting on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Owner of technical training school sentenced for defrauding VA out of GI Bill money

A school owner who defrauded the Department of Veterans Affairs out of $30 million in GI Bill benefits was sentenced this week to nearly four years in prison.

Report: Veterans Crisis Line 'remarkably successful' at handling increase in calls at start of pandemic

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line hit a high point in March as the coronavirus pandemic altered everyday life in the U.S. Despite the increase in calls and a shift to teleworking, responders met all their performance standards.

Senate Democrats claim Trump’s 2018 veteran suicide prevention order was never implemented

Thirty senators criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday for failing to implement promises made nearly three years ago through an executive order that President Donald Trump signed to combat veteran suicide.

VA plans to outsource all compensation and pension exams

The Department of Veterans Affairs is eliminating its in-house compensation and pension exam program and will outsource all of the exams, which are crucial to determining whether veterans are eligible for VA benefits.

Promotion rates an issue as VA, union spar over treatment of Black employees

White employees who applied for management positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs were promoted at twice the rate of Black workers, according to VA data released last week.

Trump signs veteran suicide prevention measures into law

President Donald Trump has signed a bill into law that contains dozens of methods to prevent suicide among veterans, including measures to boost mental health research and staffing at the VA and establish a grant program for state and local groups.

Democrats accuse VA secretary of misusing resources to campaign for Trump, other Republicans

Two Democrats accused Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday of using department resources to campaign for the reelection of President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates.

First monument honoring all military women to be unveiled at Arlington

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial, at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, is regularly placed on lists of “hidden gems” within the nation’s capital — a perspective on the memorial that its leaders are trying to change.