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Quil Lawrence

David Aquila ("Quil") Lawrence is an award-winning correspondent for NPR News, covering the millions of Americans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as they transition to life back at home.

Previously, Lawrence served as NPR's Bureau Chief in Kabul. He joined NPR in 2009 as Baghdad Bureau Chief – capping off ten years of reporting in Iraq and all the bordering countries. That experience made the foundation for his first book Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, published in 2008.

Before coming to NPR, Lawrence was based in Jerusalem, as Middle East correspondent for The World, a BBC/PRI co-production. For the BBC he covered the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 and returned to Afghanistan periodically to report on development, the drug trade and insurgency.

Lawrence began his career as a freelancer for NPR and various newspapers while based in Bogota, Colombia, covering Latin America. Other reporting trips took him to Sudan, Morocco, Cuba, Pakistan and Iran.

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.

Back in March, President Trump fired his first VA secretary, David Shulkin. His first nominee to fill the post, White House physician Ronny Jackson, withdrew after charges of professional misconduct.

His next pick Robert Wilkie was seen as uncontroversial, with decades of Washington experience. On Wednesday, Wilkie had a relatively smooth confirmation hearing.

The Army has long had shortages of health care workers and speakers of certain languages, and in 2009 it started doing what other industries, including the medical field have done: It looked to skilled immigrants.

One of the four key points agreed to by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to help repatriate the remains of Americans killed in action during the Korean War.

"The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified," the statement reads.

It may not have been the focus of the summit, but Korean War vets and their families were hoping the issue would come up.

The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, stopped by a mosque outside Baltimore on Thursday evening for Iftar, the fast-breaking meal during the month of Ramadan, when practicing Muslims don't eat or drink during daylight hours.

"I don't consider coming to your mosque to be anything extraordinary," Neller said, in his brief remarks.

But such a visit wasn't ordinary, either.

A major Veterans Affairs reform has passed the Senate by 92-5 and is on its way to the White House. The $55 billion bill will change how the VA pays for private care, expand a VA caregiver program and start a review of the VA's aging infrastructure. President Trump has said he will sign it — and it's sure to be touted among his biggest legislative achievements.

In the early days of the Iraq War, troops were riding around in Humvees with almost no armor on them. There was a scandal about it, and within a few years the trucks got up-armored with thick steel plates, which solved one problem but created another.

"Some genius thought about up-armoring. Good! But they didn't do anything with the brake systems," says George Wilmot, who was riding an armored Humvee in 2009, leaving a hilltop base in Mosul.

"We took some small arms fire ... my driver took us off a cliff," says Wilmot.

Updated at 9:58 p.m. ET

The pick wasn't surprising, but the announcement was – President Trump will nominate Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, to become the department's new secretary.

Trump was speaking at a meeting on prison reform at the White House when he veered off topic to introduce Wilkie to the room. Trump praised the job Wilkie has been doing since he stepped in at the VA from the Department of Defense in March, and then gave everyone a surprise, including Wilkie.

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The collapse of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson's nomination to lead the Veterans Affairs Department leaves the VA rudderless, and awaiting its fourth secretary in four years.

Jackson withdrew earlier this week under a cloud of allegations — which he denies — that he drank on duty, mishandled prescription medications and verbally abused his staff.

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.

On March 16, 1968, chopper pilot Hugh Thompson was uncertain what was going on in the village below. American troops were shooting, but he couldn't see anyone returning fire.

He landed his bird when he saw a group of women and children pinned down in a ditch.

"So we then set down. Two guys I think it was came over to the aircraft," Thompson told NPR in a 2004 interview.

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At the end of a dark pitted street in the center of San Juan, the light from the flat screen beckons. Locals flock toward it like a lighthouse, following the siren song of a rattling diesel generator. Six weeks into the nationwide blackout after Hurricane Maria, the final game of the World Series is playing at a popular dive bar called Esquina Watusi.

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There's sort of a designated driver in Jason Stavely's circle of Iraq buddies, but he doesn't take away people's car keys. He takes the guns.

"Come toward September-October, if I get the feeling, I'm more than happy to give my guns back to my buddy again," said Stavely.

Stavely has bad memories from the war that get triggered every autumn. And last year, one of his Marine Corps friends died by suicide in October. So Stavely's therapist at the Veterans Affairs clinic suggested getting his guns out of the house.

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Before they get to work on reforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Congress and the White House might want to take a closer look at the last time they tried it — a $16 billion fix called the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, designed to get veterans medical care more quickly.

As promised, President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It's a concern for those who might be left without health insurance — and especially for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may have to pick up some of the slack.

Carrie Farmer, a health policy researcher at the Rand Corp., says 3 million vets who are enrolled in the VA usually get their health care elsewhere — from their employer, or maybe from Obamacare exchanges. If those options go away, she has no idea just how many of those 3 million veterans will move over to the VA.

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Thirteen years ago, just as the United States began what was to become its longest war, a futuristic wheelchair hit the market.

The iBOT allowed paralyzed people, including many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, to stand up by rising to eye level. It also did something no wheelchair ever had: climb stairs.

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

Now the Marine Corps is trying to kick out Maj. Brezler because the warning used classified information.

Solving a problem

Jason Brezler never thought he'd make a career out of the Marine Corps — his family history was FDNY.

"My grandfather was a firefighter, my father was a firefighter and fire chief," he says.

Stephen Coning, a 26-year-old former Marine, took his own life this summer, leaving behind a wife and a 2-year-old son.

By chance, it was the same week the Department of Veterans Affairs released conclusive data showing that the rate of suicide for those who served is now much higher than for civilians.

Despite that connection, the VA does not presume all suicides to be "service connected."

Donald Trump picked a military town — Virginia Beach, Va. — to give a speech Monday on how he would go about overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs if elected.

He blamed the Obama administration for a string of scandals at the VA during the past two years, and claimed that his rival, Hillary Clinton, has downplayed the problems and won't fix them.

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When clinical psychiatrist Cher Morrow-Bradley and other health care providers call the Veterans Choice program, they are greeted with a recorded, 90-second "thank you" from Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald.

It's not having the intended effect.

"Why don't you make this easier? The process is so cumbersome, and I have to listen to you thanking me for spending all this time and then I get put on hold," says Morrow-Bradley, adding that she hasn't figured out how to skip the message.

In 2009, Emily Vorland went to Iraq with the Army for a year, hoping it would lead to a career in special operations. That dream was derailed not by the enemy, but by a superior officer, who started sexually harassing her.

"I said no and then reported it. And my direct chain of command relieved him of his position. However, it was three months later when the retaliation started," she says.

NPR — together with member stations from across the country — has been reporting on troubles with the Veterans Choice program, a $10 billion plan created by Congress two years ago to squash long wait times veterans were encountering when going to see a doctor. But as we reported in March, this fix needs a fix.

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