veterans

It's nightfall in Washington, D.C., at the end of the evening shift, when the throngs of students on school field trips have slowed to a trickle at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

With a flashlight in one hand and a clear plastic bag in the other, Bob Herendeen walks the length of the austere, black granite wall. The National Park Service ranger surveys the things visitors have left at the memorial: American flags, wreaths, flowers.

It happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times a year nationwide. A veteran dies, but there’s no family nearby. So, the Department of Veterans Affairs steps up to handle the burial.

This Memorial Day weekend, American flags wave in quiet reverence at cemeteries across the country. Family members, friends and volunteers plant the flags in front of headstones for service people who died in conflict. The Rolling Thunder rally in Washington, D.C. gathers those who want to remember prisoners of war and those considered missing in action (POW/MIA) in a louder way.

The USS Arizona Memorial off Honolulu's coast is closed for repairs. Jay Blount, a spokesman for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, told Hawaii News Now that the edge where the visitor ramp meets the memorial has fissures on its exterior and the loading ramp is not being properly supported.

Visitors to the National Mall on Memorial Day weekend will encounter a wall of bright red poppies, installed to commemorate the men and women who have died in uniform in the century since World War I.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. John Bird tells NPR the project uses 645,000 synthetic flowers — one for each American killed in an international conflict since the start of World War I — pressed against acrylic panels, which are backlit for dramatic effect.

In a surprise announcement that caught the candidate off-guard, President Donald Trump said he'll nominate acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the beleaguered department.

Updated at 10:46 a.m. ET

Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who abandoned his nomination to be secretary of Veterans Affairs amid numerous allegations, will not return to the job of President Trump's personal physician, according to Politico.

White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration as Veterans Affairs secretary on Thursday, saying "false allegations" against him have become a distraction.

Updated at 5:53 p.m. ET

Detailed new allegations surfaced Wednesday against President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, including charges that Dr. Ronny Jackson improperly dispensed pain medication and once wrecked a government vehicle while driving drunk.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, has been accused of creating a hostile work environment, drinking while on duty and improperly prescribing drugs to staff during his time as White House doctor to two administrations, according to Montana Sen. Jon Tester.

A team of surgeons says it has repaired the genitals of a serviceman severely injured by an explosion in Afghanistan. It's the first time a penis has been transplanted to treat a war wound.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore say 11 surgeons were involved in the 14-hour surgery in March.

Dream Flights
Top photo courtesy Dick Wells. Bottom: Caitie Switalski / WLRN

The Rev. Arthur “Art” Stejskal, 90, never got to fly during his time in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a clerk in 1947.

“I was in charge of enlisted men separation, so I had a lot of happy customers,” he said. “I did the discharges ... I always wanted to fly, and being a missionary in Taiwan I never had the opportunity.”

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR's Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

"There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren't moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA," he said. "I think that it's essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization."

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

President Trump intends to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with the White House physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, the president announced on Twitter on Wednesday.

"I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin's service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!" Trump wrote.

Glenford Turner had surgery in 2013 at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut. Four years later, according to a new lawsuit, doctors discovered that a sharp metal surgical instrument had been accidentally left inside the Army veteran's body.

"It's perplexing to me how they could be so incompetent that a scalpel that really should only be on the exterior of your body not only goes into the body but then is sewn into the body," Turner's lawyer, Joel Faxon, tells NPR. "It's a level of incompetence that's almost incomprehensible."

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