Quil Lawrence

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.

Lawrence started his career in radio by interviewing con men in Tangier, Morocco. He then moved to Bogota, Colombia, and covered Latin America for NPR, the BBC, and The LA Times.

In the Spring of 2000, a Pew Fellowship sponsored his first trips to Iraq — that reporting experience eventually built the foundation for his first book, Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Lawrence has reported from throughout the Arab world and from Sudan, Cuba, Pakistan, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan for twelve years, serving as NPR's Bureau Chief in Baghdad and Kabul. He covered the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the second battle of Fallujah in 2004, as well as politics, culture, and war in both countries.

In 2012, Lawrence returned to the U.S. to cover the millions of men and women who have served at war, both recently and in past generations. NPR is possibly unique among major news organizations in dedicating a full-time correspondent to veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A native of Maine, Lawrence studied history at Brandeis University, with concentrations in the Middle East and Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish and conversant in Arabic.

Thousands of people who had planned to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C., this holiday weekend were forced to cancel this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes veterans traveling with the nonprofit network Honor Flight, which recently suspended all trips at least until this fall.

"Our veterans that travel with us are still living, so their day is Veterans Day not Memorial Day," says Honor Flight CEO Meredith Rosenbeck. "But they go to honor their friends and comrades, those who have fallen."

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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has joined other states and ordered people in New York to wear face coverings in public when they can't remain 6 feet apart, in order to protect the gains his state has made against the coronavirus.

Despite fatalities still reaching more than 700 daily, Cuomo said the outbreak has stabilized and the danger of overwhelming the health system seems to have passed. Cuomo said he would never forget all the help New York received, and he announced he'd be sending 100 ventilators to Michigan and 50 to Maryland.

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 City has drastically increased its estimate of the number of people killed by COVID-19 to include probable victims who were not tested. The new number is 10,367.

For weeks, firefighters and paramedics have been recording a massive spike in deaths at home around New York City. The deceased were presumed to be victims of the coronavirus but were never tested. Now city officials have recalculated the toll that the virus has taken and reached a staggering number — adding nearly 4,000 to the total.

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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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.

On a recent chilly day in Manhattan, a group of veterans marched a dozen miles up the island — from the historic Fraunces Tavern to the spot where the first woman pensioned by the United States Army fired her cannon at British redcoats.

Thirty years ago, more than half of the members of Congress were veterans — many from the World War II generation. Recently, that number has hovered around 20 percent — a decline that some observers link to a loss of civil discourse and bipartisan compromise. With only about 1 percent of Americans serving, there's also a gap of understanding between vets and civilians.

Which is what brings comedian Pete Davidson into this story.

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In a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said his department is on the mend after a tumultuous 2018.

"I do think it is better, because the turmoil of the first half of this year is behind us, the waters are calmer. We're not where we need to be, but we're heading in that direction," he said.

Early in Donald Trump's presidency, the VA was considered an island of stability in an unpredictable administration.

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