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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



Vets groups recommend VA budget increase to handle expansion of private care

As the Department of Veterans Affairs works toward expanding its use of private-sector doctors, three veterans groups proposed this week that the White House and Congress approve a budget for private care in 2020 that’s nearly double what was appropriated for 2019.

Federal watchdog initiates investigation into VA dog testing

The controversy surrounding the continued use of dogs in medical experiments at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities heated up again this week when the agency’s inspector general announced it would initiate an investigation into the practice.


As Congress begs for VA information, agency touts unprecedented level of transparency

Last week, some lawmakers and veterans organizations expressed worries the rules could expand veterans’ care too far into the private sector and erode VA resources.


Lawmakers want full military honors at Arlington for MOH recipients, POWs

Legislation introduced in the House on Wednesday would grant them a military band and horse-drawn caisson – honors now reserved only for officers and servicemembers killed in action.


Lawmakers issue bipartisan call for more transparency from VA

Republicans and Democrats in Congress asked Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday to work with them more closely and openly as the agency implements sweeping reforms in coming months.


House veterans' committee chairman promises 'imminent' hearing on new private-sector care rules

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., plans to hold a hearing in the “imminent future” to analyze rules that the Department of Veterans Affairs publicly released Wednesday to expand veterans’ access to private doctors.


VA unveils proposed new rules for expanding private-sector care

New rules proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs could mean less travel time and more choices for veterans seeking mental or physical care.


Court decides 'Blue Water' Navy veterans should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits

A federal court ruled Tuesday that Vietnam veterans who served on ships offshore during the war are eligible for benefits to treat illnesses linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange – a decision that has the potential to extend help to thousands of veterans.


VA secretary predicts controversy over upcoming change to private-sector care program

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Monday that he will unveil new rules this week stipulating when veterans will be allowed to access private-sector medical care – a plan that he said would “revolutionize” the VA health system.


Veterans groups still left in the dark over how sweeping law will change VA

Three veterans organizations called attention this week to the ongoing lack of transparency about a sweeping law, set to take effect in the summer, that will fundamentally alter the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.


House lawmakers launch new effort to protect military spouses from deportation

A measure was reintroduced in the House on Wednesday to provide relief to military spouses facing deportation, with particular attention paid to one spouse – Alejandra Juarez, the wife of an Iraq War veteran who was deported to Mexico last year.


Report: Former VA secretary Shulkin violated ethics rules, allowed security to chauffeur his wife

The findings follow a prior probe into Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's ethical violations, in which he spent much of a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe sightseeing with his wife.


Conservative-leaning vets group, facing Democrat-led House, switches strategy in efforts to reform VA

Concerned Veterans for America, funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, has pushed for an aggressive expansion of veterans’ health care into the private sector and a faster process to fire VA workers. Now, they’re concerned the policy initiatives could be undone.


VA secretary fights notion that government shutdown could lead to veteran suicides

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sent a letter Monday to J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, calling the notion “preposterous” and harmful to veterans.


Number of veterans employed on Capitol Hill still low, review finds

Recent figures show that while there are more than 13,000 congressional staffers on Capitol Hill, a shockingly low percentage of them are veterans. One veterans advocate says he knows why that may be.


Takano takes helm of VA committee, inspired by 'positive force' of incoming House members

When Congressman Mark Takano took the stage over the weekend at a student veterans convention in Orlando, Fla., it marked his first public address as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs — a position that will enable him to set priorities in Congress for veterans for the next two years.


‘A daily struggle’: Veterans in federal workforce feel effects of government shutdown

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed since Dec. 22 because of the partial government shutdown — and thousands of them are veterans.


House lawmakers launch new effort to pass ‘Blue Water Navy’ bill

Just days into the new congressional session, some House lawmakers are trying again to secure benefits for thousands of veterans who served on ships off the coast during the Vietnam War – an effort that failed by the time the 115th Congress ended last month.


VFW post in Maryland closes due to government shutdown

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5633 in Potomac, Md., accessible only through federal parkland, was forced to close during the partial government shutdown.


Student vets CEO calls on veterans to fill America’s ‘leadership deficit’

America is facing an “unprecedented leadership deficit,” and young, educated veterans should be the ones to fill it, the CEO of a large veterans organization argued Friday in a call to action.


Wilkie promises student veterans GI Bill payment delays are high priority for VA

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie addressed a group of some 2,000 student veterans Friday to discuss a year filled with VA errors causing incorrect and delayed living stipends for thousands of GI Bill recipients that pushed some of them into financial hardship.


Massachusetts judge sides with ‘bad paper’ veterans denied bonuses

The Massachusetts legislature created the Welcome Home Bonus in 2005 for post-9/11 servicemembers. Under the program, residents who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible to apply for a one-time, tax-free $1,000 bonus. As long as they didn't have a bad paper discharge, a rule a judge has deemed unfair.


Service after death: Veteran’s parents find comfort after donating son’s organs

Air Force veteran Andrew Koehle died before creating the life he had intended. So when presented the option to donate their son’s organs, parents decided that would become part of their son’s legacy.


Roe ends chairmanship with goals accomplished, save for one: More benefits for Blue Water vets

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., led the House Veterans' Affairs Committee for two years, during which time he successfully garnered bipartisan support to follow through on numerous, weighty goals. However, it appeared likely Friday that he would fall short on one.


Congress approves measure to hold VA accountable for GI Bill payments

Congress approved legislation Thursday to ensure student veterans who didn’t receive monthly housing payments during the fall semester or received the wrong amounts get the money they’re due.


'No semblance of transparency:' Some concerned VA isn’t collaborating on community care rules

The House and Senate veterans affairs committees held a joint hearing Wednesday to discuss the VA Mission Act. This month marks the halfway point between when the bill was signed and when it will go into effect.


VA vows to spend full suicide prevention budget after revelation it left millions unused in 2018

Millions of dollars obligated for Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018 was not spent, according to a report released Monday. The revelation prompted blowback this week from some lawmakers and veterans groups.


VA leaves nearly $5 million unused in 2018 campaign to battle suicide, watchdog finds

Following a yearlong investigation, the Government Accountability Office reported Monday that the VA has cut back since 2016 on suicide prevention outreach. Of the $6.2 million budget obligated for suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018, the agency had spent only $57,000, or less than 1 percent.


Group urges White House, VA to reject resurfaced proposal cutting disabled, unemployed veterans' benefits

AMVETS is urging the White House and the VA to publicly disavow the proposal in a new Congressional Budget Office report before it creates a groundswell of anger within the veteran community.


Rolling Thunder to end annual Memorial Day ride in DC after 2019

The nearly 32-year-old tradition of a Memorial Day motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C. is ending because of escalating costs and a lack of cooperation from the Pentagon and metropolitan police departments, according to a letter shared by Artie Muller, a Vietnam veteran and founder of Rolling Thunder.


As VA works to implement appeals reform, GI Bill problems cast doubts

The Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to implement a new law in February that aims to shorten the time it takes veterans to appeal their claims for VA benefits – a process that can now last years.


Last-ditch effort to pass Blue Water Navy bill fails in Senate

A final deal to provide Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to thousands of veterans who served off the coast during the Vietnam War failed in the Senate on Monday night with little time remaining in the 115th Congress to try again.


Dartmouth study finds VA hospitals outperform others in same regions

A new study by Dartmouth College that compares Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals with other hospitals in the same regions found VA facilities often outperform others when it comes to mortality rates and patient safety.


Senator calls on VA, credit bureaus to prevent lasting consequences from GI Bill delays

The Department of Veterans Affairs' failure to distribute monthly housing stipends to GI Bill recipients resulted in thousands of veterans not receiving their housing stipends or facing delays — and many could experience long-term financial repercussions from the situation.


Survey finds obesity, mental health are continuing problems for wounded warriors

A new survey of 33,000 wounded warriors has alerted advocates and government officials to ongoing problems with veterans’ mental health and obesity.


Whistleblower who says he was forced to retire as VA surgeon is temporarily reinstated

A Department of Veterans Affairs doctor who claimed his supervisors forced him to retire after he warned of anesthesiologists making near-fatal mistakes during surgeries was temporarily reinstated to his job, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday.


Veterans, servicemembers join hundreds including White House and congressional leaders to honor late President

The remembrance for the late President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday in Houston, drew together congressional members, White House officials, Washington politicians, family and friends at the beginning of a weeklong set of events to honor the 41st president.


Tom Hanks thinks Hollywood isn’t best suited to tell stories of Iraq, Afghanistan wars

“I don’t know that Hollywood could create as authentic a story about Iraq or Afghanistan or people on their fourth, fifth, sixth tours of duty that couldn’t be told much, much better by a documentary or caring news media,” actor Tom Hanks said. “It’s a tough thing.”


VA says it reversed course on underpaid GI Bill recipients, though lawmakers remain skeptical

The incorrect payments that could be made during the next year are a result of setbacks in implementing a new “Forever” GI Bill — a major expansion of veterans’ education benefits that Congress passed last year.


The Daily Show blasts VA over GI Bill payment fiasco

The Daily Show also delved into the controversies that arose this week about whether GI Bill recipients who were underpaid this semester would receive retroactive payments.


Pelosi vows Democratic oversight ahead of new veteran caregiver law

When Democrats take control of the House in January, a top priority will be to ensure the White House correctly implements a new law extending benefits to more veteran caregivers, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


Confusion reigns over retroactive payments for underpaid GI Bill recipients

The Department of Veterans Affairs has no plans to retroactively pay student veterans who might get lower monthly housing stipends than they are legally entitled to receive during the next year.


VA announces new plan to fix GI Bill payment problems

At a congressional hearing earlier this month, lawmakers pleaded with VA officials to give them a date when a severe technology problem that caused payment delays and incorrect payments to thousands of student veterans would be fixed. On Wednesday, they gave one: Dec. 1, 2019.


Report calls on government to track health problems in children of Gulf War, post-9/11 vets

The National Academies of Sciences called on federal agencies Wednesday to launch a new, coordinated effort to monitor and research the health of Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans affected by toxic exposures, as well as track the health of their living and future children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


GAO agrees to investigate Mar-a-Lago members' influence on VA

A top government watchdog has agreed to investigate the amount of influence three wealthy members of President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., exerted over the Department of Veterans Affairs.


New review finds ‘sufficient’ evidence linking hypertension to Agent Orange exposure

The finding, announced Thursday, bolsters the case for veterans with hypertension to be granted easier access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. Previously, researchers had determined there was only “limited” or “suggestive” evidence hypertension could be caused by the chemicals.


Two House lawmakers launch new effort to make VA motto gender inclusive

A pair of House lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to alter the Department of Veterans Affairs motto to be more inclusive of veterans’ families and women who have served.


VA officials fail to provide answers on when thousands of vets will get overdue GI Bill payments

Department of Veterans Affairs officials contended delays in housing payments weren’t causing rampant hardships for student veterans, though they admitted thousands were still waiting for their stipends and the agency had received credible complaints from veterans facing eviction.


Leader of Forever GI Bill implementation reassigned to Houston office

The transfer of the VA official comes amid problems with the GI Bill that have gained national attention.


Marijuana-PTSD study reaches target enrollment of 76 veterans

Researchers who are trying to determine whether marijuana works to treat post-traumatic stress disorder enrolled their final veteran needed for the study on Veterans Day.


A 'perfect storm' of GI Bill problems is costing veterans, taxpayers

Widespread information technology problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to affect thousands of student veterans who have gone without housing payments months into the fall semester.


GAO finds VA contractors not meeting timeliness, accuracy standards on exams

The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have the tools to track whether private-sector medical providers are accurately giving exams that help determine whether veterans are eligible for VA benefits, a government watchdog agency found.


Vietnam War nurses celebrate 25 years of representation on National Mall

Dozens of former Army nurses from across the country gathered Sunday around the bronze sculpture on the National Mall that's dedicated to their service in the Vietnam War.


GALLERY

Trump spends Veterans Day in France, honors WWI dead

President Donald Trump spent Veterans Day in Paris, marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I with a speech honoring the American servicemembers who died and those who returned home “bearing the lasting scars of war.”


Tales of service and sacrifice

Everywhere you look inside the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum, there are stories. Here are three from veterans featured there.


VA's Wilkie defends using dogs in medical research

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Friday defended the VA’s continued use of dogs in medical research. Wilkie argued the research was necessary for medical breakthroughs that could help veterans.


VA secretary has begun planning budget cuts requested by Trump

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said Friday that he has begun forming a plan to cut the agency’s budget as President Donald Trump requested during a Cabinet meeting last month.


Voices of veterans: New museum in Ohio is a salute to stories, not war

The idea for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum started with one veteran. Astronaut John Glenn, a former Marine, U.S. senator and Ohio resident, wanted a special, sacred place to honor and connect veterans and teach others about their service.


Democrats gain control of key House military, vet committees

The fate of an ongoing military buildup, war oversight, veterans affairs and decisions on who can enlist in the service now rests with a split Congress following the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections.


Veterans fueled edge for Democratic takeover of House

The more than 200 veterans who ran for seats in the House and Senate was an uptick of former servicemembers seeking office, according to With Honor, a new “cross-partisan” group focused on electing candidates with military service to public office.


HUD reports drop to 37,878 homeless veterans in 2018

The number of homeless veterans across the U.S. declined more than 5 percent over the past year after a slight rise in 2017, the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs announced Thursday.


Readiness of VA emergency stockpile of drugs, medical supplies called into question

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Veterans Affairs created a stockpile that could be used to treat veterans, VA employees and others in case of a mass casualty incident. An Inspector General report states there are issues with its readiness.


National Veterans Memorial and Museum opens in Ohio

The new National Veterans Memorial and Museum officially opened to the public Saturday with a ceremony featuring Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and former Secretary of State retired Gen. Colin Powell.


Video

Democrats lay out veterans priorities as they look to take House in midterm elections

When Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., took the stage at the American Legion convention in Minneapolis, he delivered a stump speech in his bid to be the next Democratic leader on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.


Vets group calls on DOD, VA to help stop fake news targeting veterans, troops

Vietnam Veterans of America is working to find and stop social media pages that target veterans and servicemembers with sensationalized news and hyper-partisan political content.


Fired VA secretary compares presidents: Obama analytic, Trump off-the-cuff

Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Monday that President Donald Trump’s lack of concern over details and signature extemporaneous style enabled him to usher change quickly at the VA during his year in the job.


VA appoints new director for embattled DC hospital

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday appointed a new director to lead its troubled flagship hospital in Washington, which was recently designated among the agency’s lowest-performing facilities after officials deemed conditions deteriorated to a critical level.


Lawsuit filed against VA for withholding information about ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Department of Veterans Affairs by two groups that allege the agency is unlawfully withholding records that could detail how extensively three members of President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla., club influenced his veterans policies.


Wilkie won’t share documents that could reveal extent of Mar-a-Lago influence on VA

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said he will not hand over information to Congress that could help reveal the extent three members of President Donald Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla. have influenced veterans policies.


Marine veteran among those killed in New York limo crash

Michael Ukaj, a former combat engineer in the Marine Corps, is being remembered as an honest and caring individual always ready to give advice to his friends and family. He was one of 20 people killed when a limo sped through a stop sign and slammed into a parked SUV in Schoharie, N.Y., on Saturday.


Student veterans, schools frustrated over lack of housing payments from VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged technical issues are causing 340,000 student veterans to receive incorrect housing stipends to begin the new school year, but now lawmakers and advocates contend the problem is bigger – many veterans are not receiving the payments at all.


Senator: VA missed deadline to inform vets with 'bad paper' about access to mental health care

The Honor Our Commitment Act, approved as part of large appropriations bill in March, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with mental health screenings and care, even if they received other-than-honorable discharges.


VA releases 2018 performance ratings for its hospitals

The fiscal 2018 ratings include nine one-star hospitals, the lowest possible, down from 14 hospitals that received one-star ratings in 2017. The ratings indicate each hospital’s quality of care and are based on data such as death rates, patient satisfaction and efficiency.


Veterans group places thousands of flags on National Mall to draw attention to suicide crisis

The flags were placed on the Mall by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, an advocacy group trying to draw awareness to the issue of veteran suicide.


Afghan War vet ends bid for Kansas City mayor, citing PTSD and depression

Jason Kander, an Afghanistan War veteran widely praised as a rising star in the Democratic party, withdrew Tuesday from the Kansas City, Mo., mayoral race to seek help for depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Marine veteran loved to fix things — but the VA offered no plan for him to help himself

When Justin Miller left the Minneapolis VA hospital, he was marked at “moderate risk” for suicide. He left without a follow-up appointment for his newly prescribed antidepressants. Staff wasn’t sure whether he had access to firearms, and there was no documentation that they reached out to his family to try to engage them in his treatment.