Quil Lawrence | WGLT

Quil Lawrence

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Since retiring from television in 2015, comedian Jon Stewart's most prominent work has been on behalf of Sept. 11 first responders — people who got sick after working in the toxic wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York. Many credit his celebrity testimony in 2019 with pushing Congress to preserve the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation fund.

This summer the Trump administration rolled out the President's Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) - a long awaited strategy to bring down the rate of suicide in the military and among civilians. It focuses on enlisting community partners and a public awareness campaign to fight the stigma around seeking help during a mental health crisis.

For the second time in two months, the Trump administration has sided with the for-profit college industry over a key constituency: veterans. In May, the president vetoed a bipartisan bill promoting debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded by for-profit schools. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing two repeat-offending schools access to GI Bill money.

From Richmond to Seattle, cities are taking a fresh look at – and sometimes taking a sledgehammer to – statues of slave owners. U.S. military bases named for Confederate generals are under scrutiny, and the Marine Corps has banned Confederate flags. Some veterans would like to see this momentum help change the gender-exclusive motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The New York police officer accused of using a chokehold in an incident captured on video Sunday has been charged with strangulation.

The officer, 39-year-old David Afanador, was suspended the same day the cellphone video appeared to show him choking a Black man on a Queens boardwalk. Now he's been arrested and charged with felony strangulation and attempted strangulation. Afanador pleaded not guilty and was released Thursday afternoon without bail.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed what he says are the most aggressive police accountability measures in the nation, including criminalizing the use of chokeholds, following weeks of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

Macabre news of bodies stacked in a makeshift morgue. Federal emergency teams swooping in to take control of state veterans homes where the coronavirus has killed scores. For veterans, getting care in their own homes has gone from a preference to a matter of survival.

"It's definitely scary," says Rob Grier.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the country's largest health care network with 300 hospitals, clinics and nursing homes nationwide. More than 9 million American veterans get care from the VA, and today VA doctors and nurses serve on the frontlines of the pandemic crisis.

Watching the White House briefings on the pandemic is prompting questions about the officials gathered near the podium, including: Who's that in the blue uniform with four stars on his collar?

Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., is assistant secretary for health – not in the Navy but in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), one of the country's two unarmed services. (For extra credit: The other one is NOAA.)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will not fight with President Trump during a pandemic, appearing conciliatory after a day of rising tension between the two men.

At a news conference Monday, Trump said his "authority is total" in terms of when to open the economy. He then tweeted Tuesday that governors such as Cuomo who were starting to make their own plans about how to reopen their states are mutinous.

The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the largest health care network in the country. Nine million vets are enrolled in VA health care, and recently, the department announced it would treat all veterans who need help during this crisis.

But VA health workers say they need help. At least seven VA staff have died from the virus, and NPR has seen internal emails telling VA staff to use the same surgical mask for up to a week.

In an interview with NPR News, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said the VA stands ready to back up the nation's health care system, but has not yet been asked to deploy resources by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have been preparing for what has been coming for a while now," Wilkie said. "In war and in case of natural disaster or an epidemic, we are the surge force."

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What are moderate lawmakers thinking of impeachment?

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Some welcome news today for disabled veterans with student loan debt - President Trump announced an executive order forgiving all federal student loan debt for vets who are permanently and totally disabled.

Seven years ago, Maj. Jason Brezler sent an urgent message to a fellow Marine in Afghanistan, warning him about an insider threat. The warning wasn't heeded, and two weeks later, three U.S. troops were dead.

What did attract attention was that Brezler had sent classified information over an insecure network. The Marine Corps then embarked on what would be a multiyear effort to kick out Brezler — claiming it was for mishandling information. Brezler maintained it was retaliation for calling attention to deaths he thought might have been prevented.

There are times when retired Staff Sgt. Matt Lammers doesn't look like he needs anyone's help — like when he was competing, and winning, races at the Department of Defense Warrior Games in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

"We don't like to say the word 'can't' in our family," says Matt, who lost both his legs above the knee and his left arm to an explosion during his second deployment to Iraq in 2007.

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A Wisconsin combat veteran was driving down the highway in February when he suddenly found his name, license plate number and mental health information broadcast on the radio, on television and posted on electronic billboards across the state.

"It felt very violating. Because I didn't want everyone who doesn't know me to know I have problems. It made me want to crawl into a bigger hole," he told NPR.

But the "Green Alert" might have saved his life.

At a speech in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday, President Trump went off script into a five minute, ad-libbed attack on the late Sen. John McCain, a celebrated Vietnam War veteran and a former prisoner of war. Lost amid the unusual verbal attack on a deceased war hero by a sitting president was an inaccurate claim about veterans' issues.

President Trump slammed McCain for failing to pass a bill to expand VA services — a bill which in fact was originally sponsored by Sen. McCain.

The VA Mission Act passed into law with broad bipartisan support last year, but that unity began to wane immediately, when President Trump signaled after signing it that he wouldn't give it an additional stream of funding.

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Navy veterans long denied VA benefits are declaring victory after a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The court sided with the plaintiff, a Vietnam vet with cancer who sued the Department of Veterans Affairs, demanding it recognize that his health conditions were caused by Agent Orange.

A decade-long fight ended at the Supreme Court this week, when justices refused to hear an appeal by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who say that toxic smoke from burn pits made them sick.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday that it will stop dropping caregivers from its stipend program. The temporary suspension comes three days after a report from NPR exposed concerns from veterans that their caregivers were arbitrarily cut, despite no change in their status.

Chris Kurtz is trying to keep his sense of humor. Even after the VA told him last summer that he no longer needs a caregiver.

"Apparently my legs grew back, I dunno," he says with a laugh, and sinks into his couch in Clarksville, Tenn. And then he mentions that he probably can't get out of the couch without help from his wife.

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