Quil Lawrence

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."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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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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