Quil Lawrence | KUNC

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 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."

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.

Khalid al-Baidhani found out early about the risks of being an Iraqi working for the U.S. military in Baghdad. In 2006, he was waiting for a ride home outside a U.S. base.

"A car stopped right away, took out the pistol and start shooting me," Baidhani recalls, "I [couldn't] feel anything after that."

Baidhani survived, recovered and went back to work with U.S. forces.

"I want ... good communications between U.S. military and Iraqi civilians over there," he said.

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.

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.

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