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.

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At the county court in Waukesha, Wis., in September, Iraq veteran David Carlson sat before a judge hoping he hadn't run out of second chances.

The judge read out his record: drugs, drunken driving, stealing booze while on parole, battery while in prison. Then the judge listed an almost equal number of previous opportunities he'd had at treatment or early release.

Carlson faced as much as six more years on lockdown — or the judge could give him time served and release him to a veterans treatment program instead.

The judge's tone was not encouraging.

After his son died fighting in Afghanistan, Phil Schmidt became a walking memorial.

"At the age of 52, I got my first tattoo. So I've got a total of five of em, and I'm not done," says Schmidt, who lives in New Mexico.

Schmidt has tattoos of his son Jonathan's face, and of his son's medals, and the date that he fell in combat, Sept. 1, 2012.

Jonathan Schmidt should have been coming home from Afghanistan that month. Instead two Army officers arrived at Schmidt's home bearing the news that Jonathan had died in a firefight.

In 2009, then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki declared that all homeless veterans would have housing by year's end. New Orleans has made huge strides towards ending veteran homelessness in the city. (This story first aired on August 4, 2015 on All Things Considered.)

This is a tale of two cities. In New Orleans, there are signs of hope that veteran homelessness can be solved. But Los Angeles presents a very different picture.

Under the deafening highway noise of the Pontchartrain Expressway in central city New Orleans, Ronald Engberson, 54, beds down for the night. Engberson got out of the Marines in 1979, plagued even back then by problems with drugs and alcohol. He says that's mostly the reason he's been homeless the past 10 years.

A decade ago, plans were drawn up for a huge Veterans Affairs hospital near Denver intended to replace old and crowded facilities for nearly 400,000 vets in Colorado and neighboring states.

The original budget was $328 million, but that was totally unrealistic, the VA now acknowledges. So how much did it finally cost?

Brittany Bentz was 16 years old in 2012, living near Edwards Air Force Base in California. She went to the same martial arts studio as a family friend, who was 25 and in the Air Force.

"He was like a brother so I felt comfortable talking with him, hanging out with him," Bentz says.

It's NPR policy to name plaintiffs in sexual assault cases only if they want to tell their story — and Bentz does.

President Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald visit the veterans hospital in Phoenix Friday to announce a new outside advisory committee to help the VA with customer service. A scandal last year at the Phoenix facility led to revelations of long wait times for veterans throughout the VA medical system.

During a decade of war, U.S. troops relied on interpreters — thousands of Iraqis and Afghans — who worked and often fought alongside Americans.

Many of them were promised visas to the U.S. but they have been waiting for years with no answer. Now, nine Iraqis are suing the U.S. government to get their status resolved.

All the Iraqis in the lawsuit go by code names because of ongoing threats to their lives.

Plaintiff Alpha was in an ambush with U.S. troops and got shot in the back, but he continued to work with the U.S. military after he recovered.

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Ask Americans if someone in their family served in the military, and the answer is probably no. After all, fewer than 1 percent of Americans serve these days.

But ask if one of their grandfathers served, and you'll likely get a different answer. Between World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, millions of men were drafted into service — and both men and women volunteered.

NPR — along with seven public radio stations around the country — is chronicling the lives of America's troops where they live. We're calling the project "Back at Base." This is the first of a three-part series about veteran benefits (Part 2 / Part 3).

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Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Basetrack began as a place for embedded journalists to post photos. Later it became a social media site where families could keep up with their troops in Afghanistan. Now it has transformed again, into a new way for the most recent generation of veterans to tell the story of their service and survival.

Army veteran Randy Michaud had to make a 200-mile trip to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Aroostook County, Maine, near the Canadian border, every time he had a medical appointment.

Michaud, who was medically retired after a jeep accident in Germany 25 years ago, moved home to Maine in 1991. He was eligible for VA medical care, but the long drive was a problem.

He's one of millions of veterans living in rural America who must travel hundreds of miles round-trip for care.

Every summer for 27 years, a small tent city has popped up in San Diego. "Stand Down" is a three-day oasis for homeless veterans, with showers, new clothes, hot meals, medical help, legal aid and a booth set up for every housing program in the city.

Increasingly, the event needs ways to keep children entertained.

"They've got the kids zone and everything. My kids live out here very happy. They're looking forward to it from last year," says Alex Morales, who served in the Army in the 1970s.

President Obama addressed the annual convention of the American Legion in North Carolina with a raft of new proposals for vets. The speech comes as the inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department is releasing a report on the scandal over phony wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital.

About a dozen military veterans have locked themselves inside a caged boxing ring, in a rough part of San Diego, and they're starting to throw punches. It's therapeutic, they say.

"A lot of people say, 'You guys are punching each other in the face. How is that helpful?' " says Aaron Espinoza, a former Marine. "But it's a respect thing, it's mutual. I have to push him, he has to push me to get better."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

For many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping can return you to the worst place you've ever been, at the worst possible moment.

"I always see his face," says Will, who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army. "And in my dreams it's the same thing. ... I always walk over to him, and instead of this Afghani kid that's laying there, it's my little brother."

There are antlers everywhere on the walls of Bryan and Mike McDonel's place near Pine Bluff, Ark. The house is hardly big enough for all their hunting trophies. Both are good shots with their hunting bows; Bryan and Mike, his father, served in the Arkansas National Guard and deployed together to Iraq, twice.

The McDonel family has served in the military for generations. But Bryan, 35, is out of the service now. He is one of thousands of troops and veterans who struggle with addiction to prescription drugs.

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President Obama has decided on his choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has nominated Robert McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble. This afternoon the president introduced him at the VA, here in Washington.

The current crisis in Iraq has focused on the Sunni-Shiite conflict, but relatively little has been heard from the other major ethnic group in Iraq, the Kurds. And that's just the way the Kurds would like it.

The Kurds have been seeking an independent state for a century but have been stymied at every turn. As the Shiites and the Sunnis slug it out, the Kurds are demonstrating, so far at least, that they can maintain peace and stability in their semi-autonomous region in the northeastern part of the country.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure is close enough to a version already passed by the House that it could reach the president's desk soon.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



A new generation of American vets is home from war — about 2.6 million of them. And there are about 10 million older veterans, many from the Vietnam era, hitting their 60s, 70s or 80s. Taking care of both groups is getting expensive.

"If they can afford to pay for wars, they can afford to pay for the treatment after the wars," says Garry Augustine, with Disabled American Veterans. DAV and other private veterans' organizations draw up their own "independent budget" for the Department of Veterans Affairs every year.

Before former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down, he ordered an audit of the VA system, hoping to find how many hospitals were lying about wait times. The audit found that approximately 100,000 veterans are waiting too long for care at the VA.

More than 2.5 million veterans served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they qualify for health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These recent vets have been putting in for more service-related conditions than previous generations, for everything from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury to the bad knees, bad backs and bad hearing that nearly every new vet seems to have.

Veterans across the country are still waiting too long for medical care, a situation that drove the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week.

Now Republicans and Democrats in Congress are competing to pass laws they think will fix the problem of medical wait times and other problems at the VA. The discussion over how to reform veterans' health care is starting to sound familiar.