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.

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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.

A New York City police officer has been suspended after apparently using a chokehold during an arrest in Rockaway, Queens. NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said the department is investigating the incident, which happened Sunday.

Cellphone video shot by a bystander shows several police struggling to subdue a Black man, including one officer who had his arm around the man's neck. One bystander shouts, "Stop choking him!"

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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.

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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.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the nation's largest health care system that takes care of 9 1/2 million vets at 170 hospitals. Like other hospitals, it's been forced to ration personal protective equipment during the pandemic, even though it's supposed to be part of the nation's emergency response to disasters or pandemics. Quil Lawrence covers veterans affairs for NPR, and he joins us now.

Quil, thanks so much for being with us.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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