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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



Legislation allowing vets to bypass VA draws ire of VFW

The Veterans Empowerment Act, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., would allow veterans to bypass Veterans Affairs and receive treatment from private-sector doctors with taxpayers money. The VFW criticized the legislation.

First VetsAid concert provides $360,000 in grants

Grammy award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joe Walsh distributed $360,000 among 16 veterans’ organizations after VetsAid, a benefit concert he put together in September.


Veterans lobby Sessions to ease restrictions on marijuana

Just down the hall from where Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee he would maintain current marijuana policies, a retired Navy SEAL, NFL lineman and two Republican lawmakers urged him and President Donald Trump to ease up.


'Keep fighting:' Vets work to bridge information gap on Gulf War illness

Army veteran Shawn Scott wants to help VA medical providers better understand the cluster of conditions known as Gulf War illness, so they could improve care for vets like him. "Every time I went to see a doctor, I’d say I had Gulf War Illness and they’d say, ‘What’s that?’”


Cost estimate delays VA Choice overhaul

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, postponed the vote until members receive a cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. “I was not comfortable asking members to vote on final passage of a bill of this significance without some idea of cost,” he said.


House passes bill taking VA telehealth across state lines

The VA introduced telehealth more than a decade ago. In 2016, the agency reported about 677,000 patients – 12 percent of the veterans enrolled in VA health care – used telehealth in some form. Under legislation the House passed Tuesday, that could expand significantly.


Veterans’ health care battle becomes dispute over the details

Lawmakers and stakeholders were grappling Tuesday with details of legislation that focus on a big question in veterans’ health care – whether the government or the veteran should have final say about where medical treatment is provided.


Poll: Marijuana research widely supported among veterans

Most veteran households, regardless of state, age or political affiliation, support researching and legalizing medical marijuana, according to a poll commissioned by the American Legion released Thursday. The poll found 92 percent of veterans support research into medical cannabis.


Agent Orange coverage fight for Blue Water Navy vets is delayed again

An effort to extend health benefits to about 90,000 sailors who served in Vietnam stalled again in the House – a blow to advocates who thought the measure would overcome a hurdle Thursday that it hasn’t in a yearslong fight.


Iraq and Afghanistan vets call VA motto ‘sexist’

A group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is demanding the Department of Veterans Affairs change its motto, which they argue is sexist, outdated and exclusionary. Since 1959, the motto has been a quote from former President Abraham Lincoln: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”


House lawmakers urge VA secretary to research medical marijuana

In a letter Thursday to VA Secretary David Shulkin, lawmakers cited the country’s opioid crisis and the growing demand from veterans and major veterans service organizations that want cannabis available as a treatment option for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Facebook shuts down ‘imposter’ veterans page

Facebook Inc. disabled a page on its social media platform Tuesday after determining it violated the intellectual property of a congressionally chartered veterans service organization.


Soldier behind ‘Thank You’ opens up to help others

Ten years ago, when journalist David Finkel approached Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann on his last day in Iraq, Schumann didn’t anticipate his life would be chronicled in two books, and he couldn’t imagine the story would play out in a major motion picture.


House considers major changes to VA health care

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin argued Tuesday that a House plan for veterans’ health care was too restrictive and wouldn’t offer enough veterans the choice of private-sector care.


As Congress ramps up VA health care debate, more voices join fight

Major reforms to veterans’ health care are moving forward on Capitol Hill, and politically conservative and liberal groups are attempting to influence what could be an intense debate over balancing private-sector care.


VA seeking donations for health care facilities

The Department of Veterans Affairs is soliciting donors such as nonprofits to provide funds to construct, expand or renovate VA health care facilities.


Veterans with 'bad paper' won't get new VA ID cards

Starting next month, veterans can register for identification cards that prove their military history – but not everyone who has served will get one.


Advocates fight for Desert Storm memorial site near National Mall

Retired four-star Army Gen. Ronald Griffith made an impassioned case Thursday for the new National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial to be placed near the National Mall, adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


Veterans organization asks for more help combating ‘imposter’ Facebook page

Vietnam Veterans of America, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization, runs a public Facebook page. Another page, Vietnam Vets of America, isn’t affiliated with a major veterans group. VVA calls them an "imposter page."


VA proposes Choice program overhaul that eliminates 30-day/40-mile rule

The Department of Veterans Affairs sent a bill proposal to Congress that would overhaul how veterans receive health care in the private sector and do away with the widely criticized “30-day/40-mile” rule, the agency announced Monday.


VA secretary promises in writing not to cut benefit program for disabled vets

Months after President Donald Trump’s administration backed off a proposal to slash benefits for the country’s most disabled veterans, organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars were still receiving calls and emails from panicked vets. That’s why the organizations were relieved Thursday, when VA Secretary David Shulkin put the promise in writing.


BRAC for VA: Lawmakers search for ways to reduce the number of VA facilities

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday initiated what could be a long and politically arduous process to get rid of aging and underused Department of Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide.


Lawmakers consider pushing VA to sell Pershing Hall, its 5-star Paris hotel

There’s an effort underway in Congress to have the Department of Veterans Affairs sell an 18th century building it owns in Paris that’s leased as a five-star boutique hotel and spa.


Congressmen consider proposal to slash GI Bill flight school benefits

Congressmen heard arguments Wednesday for cutting federal funding given to veterans who attend flight training programs, with some veteran advocates saying the schools use a loophole to charge inordinate amounts for tuition and abuse the GI Bill.


Democrats want to help deported vets get VA care

When five members of Congress traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, on Friday, they met U.S. veterans, many of them with mental illness or physical issues — all deported and unable to access their federal benefits.


Senators call for more oversight of VA spending

A group of senators led by Arizona Republican John McCain are seeking assurances that money spent on private health care for veterans is well-managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Chief of VA health system steps down

The leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system unexpectedly stepped down from her position effective Saturday, leaving three top VA positions unfilled by permanent undersecretaries.


Union warns of VA privatization ahead of Choice reform debate

A coalition of people opposed to the Department of Veterans Affairs providing more private care for veterans described their fears Thursday about an effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to shift more public funds to private entities and undermine VA health care.


‘Alzheimer’s is a veterans’ disease:’ New group tries to improve support for vets with dementia

VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s, which officially launched Tuesday, is partnering with Veterans Affairs and Veterans of Foreign Wars to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research, boost support for caregivers and enroll more vets who are affected by dementia into the VA.


VA publicizes Shulkin’s travel schedule amid scrutiny over Cabinet spending

The Department of Veterans Affairs made moves Friday to publicize Secretary David Shulkin’s travel schedule, following scrutiny over the cost of government-funded travel by other Cabinet members.


Stage set in Congress for debate on Choice program reform

VA Secretary David Shulkin had told lawmakers in June that the account was quickly and unexpectedly running out of money because of increased demand. Now, the money – originally estimated to last until February 2018 – is again being spent faster than predicted.


‘Something has to change:’ Facing high denial rates for VA claims, 3 Gulf War vets intervene

Their work became more urgent this summer, after a Government Accountability Office report disclosed that the VA denies more than 80 percent of veterans’ claims for Gulf War-associated illnesses.


VIDEO

Joe Walsh’s first VetsAid concert delivers charity, 'healing'

The first concert of an initiative by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joe Walsh to raise money for veterans featured uniformed servicemembers, a few dozen Gold Star families, countless guitar riffs and an appearance from a U.S. senator.


High school with highest death rate in Vietnam embraces its legacy

It took 50 years for Louis Viscusi to overcome the mental obstacles that kept him from the blighted neighborhood in North Philadelphia that he always meant to visit.


VA fires DC medical director for the second time

The Department of Veterans Affairs fired its D.C. medical director again, this time using new laws championed by President Donald Trump that ease restrictions on employee discipline.


Joe Walsh, others team up for concert to benefit veterans

Longtime musician Joe Walsh, a Grammy award-winner and inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is best known as a guitarist for the Eagles. A lesser-known fact: he’s also a Gold Star son.


Experts: Veterans should ‘get out in the streets’ to protest government’s handling of ‘bad paper’

Easing challenges created for veterans who receive “bad paper” discharges will require changes in practices and procedures at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, some experts said Friday. But first, it will take public outrage.


Veterans crisis line to open third call center

The Department of Veterans Affairs will open a third call center in the fall to handle an anticipated increase in calls to the veterans crisis hotline. The announcement comes just nine months after a second call center was opened in Atlanta.


Study: ‘Obamacare’ repeal or replace would increase uninsured veterans, strain VA

Federal health care reform proposed by Republicans in Congress in recent months would increase the number of old, sick and low-income veterans without insurance and put pressure on an overburdened Veterans Affairs system, a Rand Corp. study released Thursday found.


Lawmakers consider Ohio project for designation as national veterans museum

A museum and memorial under construction in downtown Columbus, Ohio, could become known officially as the national site for Americans to reflect on the experiences of veterans.


House looks to increase funding for veteran treatment courts

A measure to increase funding for veteran treatment courts by $3 million was added to a House spending bill Tuesday, signaling early support in Congress for diversion, rather than incarceration, for veterans struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders.


Lawmakers: 'Unreliable' VA mail data a symptom of larger issues

A House subcommittee criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday for inaccurate and unreliable reporting of how much it spends on mail, which lawmakers contended is a sign of larger management issues at the agency.


Study of marijuana’s effects on PTSD struggles to recruit vets

Lead researcher Sue Sisley has screened thousands of veterans, yet enrolled only 26 who meet the eligibility criteria – prompting concern the study’s parameters must change. If that happens, the study could be delayed, she said.


IG report: Social Security Administration paid $38 million to dead veterans

The Social Security Administration has paid out nearly $38 million in benefits to hundreds of dead veterans, according to a government watchdog report that partially blamed the Department of Veterans Affairs for inaccurate death records.


‘They can count on us’: Houston VA hospital withstands Harvey, prepares for aftermath

When Hurricane Harvey lashed southeast Texas on Friday and brought punishing rain and devastating floods for days afterward, the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in downtown Houston remained open, operated by about 700 staff members who made the facility their temporary home.


Ecstasy deemed ‘breakthrough’ therapy for PTSD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated the illegal psychedelic drug MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, as a “breakthrough therapy” to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.


Pentagon expands policy to upgrade vets’ bad paper discharges

The Defense Department on Monday issued a sweeping policy change to afford more leeway to veterans seeking upgrades to their other-than-honorable discharges.


More vets, medical groups join fight to keep dog testing at VA

More veterans, military and medical organizations have come out against legislation limiting medical experiments on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.


American Legion adopts resolution supporting medical marijuana

The American Legion first acted in support of medical marijuana last summer, when it decided to put its weight behind an effort to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs to allow for more research.


Women take helm of two major veterans organizations

The American Legion, a 99-year-old organization representing 2 million veterans, elected its first female national commander at the conclusion of its annual convention. Disabled American Veterans elected its first female commander, Army veteran Delphine Metcalf-Foster, on Aug. 1.


Video

Trump looks to veterans as example of unity, hours after controversial Phoenix rally

At the 99th annual American Legion National Convention in Reno, Nevada, President Donald Trump held up veterans as an example of inspiration to unify a divided nation. "Now our nation must follow that same devotion to a greater cause to achieve our nation’s full potential.”


In Reno, Trump signs bill to overhaul VA appeals process

Under a bill President Donald Trump signed Wednesday, veterans will have more options to appeal denied claims for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits – a process that now leaves veterans waiting an average of five years.


Trump signs ‘Forever GI Bill,’ boosting aid to student vets

The bill immediately eliminates the 15-year limit veterans currently have to tap into their education benefits. That restriction will no longer apply to veterans discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013, or to current and future servicemembers.


Trump signs $3.9 billion VA funding bill to avert crisis for Choice program

President Donald Trump on Saturday signed a $3.9 billion funding deal for the Department of Veterans Affairs that will shore up the nearly bankrupt Veterans Choice Program and allow the VA to open 28 new clinics and implement new hiring programs.


Paralyzed Veterans of America: Ending dog testing at VA could hurt veterans

A measure to stop funding for VA research that causes pain to dogs drew no opponents on the House floor. PVA Executive Director Sherman Gillums said he was frustrated that the potential medical benefits for veterans weren’t raised in debate on the measure.


Plan to institute military oath against suicide could backfire, some experts say

A congressman who served in Afghanistan is championing an idea to request departing servicemembers sign an oath not to harm themselves, as a method to deter veteran suicides. But some suicide prevention experts contend the plan is likely to do the opposite.


VA forced to rehire fired director of DC hospital

The Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to take back the director of the Washington VA Medical Center who was fired after VA officials discovered the hospital was putting patients at risk.


Afghanistan veteran wants to empower others with hip-hop 'Combat Medicine'

George “Mik” Todd dreamed of being a hip-hip artist before he joined the military. But after a difficult deployment in Afghanistan in 2009, the Navy corpsman spent eight years battling his demons to get back into music. Now, with a new album, he’s using his experiences to empower others.


Report: Pentagon not providing adequate care to troops at risk of suicide

Defense Department health care providers do a good job of screening for suicide risk, but they fail to provide critical and effective follow-up treatment to servicemembers identified as suicidal, according to a Rand Corp. report released Monday.


VA whistleblower gets job in Trump’s new accountability office

Two years ago, Brandon Coleman was placed on paid leave from his job with the Department of Veterans Affairs as an addiction therapist after he reported poor care for mental-health patients at the Phoenix VA hospital — the epicenter of the agency’s wait-time scandal.


Senate confirms retired colonel as Shulkin’s No. 2 at the VA

In one of the Senate’s last moves before a recess, senators on Thursday confirmed six nominees to the Department of Veterans Affairs, including a new deputy secretary.


Senate sends ‘Forever GI Bill’ to Trump’s desk

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday that veteran advocates are describing as the largest expansion of veterans education benefits in a decade. The measure passed through committees and cleared the House and Senate just 20 days after it was introduced.


Senator seeks answers after watchdog finds VA made $5.5 billion in improper payments

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs after a VA watchdog found the agency made $5.5 billion in improper payments last year.


Vietnam veterans group files suit accusing DOD of exposing private information through website

Vietnam Veterans of America has filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department, alleging its website containing veterans’ and servicemembers’ records violates privacy rights and leaves them susceptible to fraud.


Senate passes VA appeals reform bill

The Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday evening to reform the process veterans use to appeal claims for benefits – a system that now leaves veterans waiting years to receive earned disability compensation and health care.


Senate passes VA Choice funding deal, sends bill to White House

The bill, a bipartisan compromise negotiated between House and Senate lawmakers last week, would avert the threat of interrupted medical care for thousands of veterans and inject enough money into the Choice program to keep it going for the next six months.


Report: Veterans with private-sector docs at greater risk for opioid abuse

Veterans who use Department of Veterans Affairs programs to receive private-sector medical care are at “significant risk” for abusing opioids, according to a VA watchdog report released Tuesday.


VA fires DC hospital director as watchdog reveals more findings

The director of the Washington VA Medical Center — removed from his position in April after a government watchdog found the hospital was putting veterans at risk — had also broken VA policy by sending sensitive information to private email accounts belonging to him and to his wife, according to a report.


'Forever GI Bill' losing momentum? Advocates intensify push for Senate vote

The House unanimously passed a large expansion of veterans education benefits last week, just nine days after the legislation was introduced in that chamber. But advocates are now concerned that momentum has been lost in the Senate.


House approves new deal to prevent VA budget crisis for Choice program

House lawmakers voted unanimously Friday on a deal to fund the nearly depleted Veterans Choice Program and avert the threat of interrupted medical care for thousands of veterans.


House to vote again Friday on urgent VA funding

Friday is the last day for House lawmakers to pass a funding measure before leaving for August recess. The Veterans Choice Program is expected to run dry in mid-August, putting thousands of veterans at risk for interrupted medical care.


Former secretary McDonald: Keep politics out of VA

As the long-standing debate about whether the Department of Veterans Affairs is sliding too far into the private sector reignited this week, former VA Secretary Bob McDonald had a message for the VA: find Find the right balance and keep political ideologies out of it.


Lawmakers move toward agreement on funding for nearly bankrupt VA program

House and Senate lawmakers came to a compromise Wednesday that would keep the Veterans Choice Program funded, while authorizing leases for new Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and research locations.


GI Bill expansion moves to Senate floor for a vote

In a unanimous vote Wednesday morning, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced quick-moving legislation to expand veterans’ education benefits to a Senate floor vote.


House committee blocks attempt to let VA docs recommend marijuana

A House committee has struck down a measure allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where the drug is legal, blocking it from debate Wednesday on the House floor.


House veterans committee chairman diagnosed with cancer

Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, according to a statement issued Tuesday from his office.