American Legion Post 5 in Washington, D.C., is working with American University faculty and students on a unique revitalization project. Post 5, chartered in 1919, is battling to keep its membership consistent. “As the commander, I was getting desperate,” said Dr. James Jones. “We’re not getting enough people. What’s going to happen? What are we going to do when we don’t have enough people?” In stepped Brenda V. Smith, professor at American’s Washington College of Law Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, and Angie Chuang, associate professor at the university’s College of Communication. They immediately zeroed in on the post’s treasure trove of history, artifacts and memorabilia that connects with veterans of any era. “We’ve taken a creative approach to issues of membership,” said Smith, who sees this project as a way to better market the post to prospective members and the community. “It’s the essence of the post. The memories and insights that come with military service are displayed with these artifacts. They are really important in documenting the role the organizations played in the civic life of these African-American soldiers. That’s what the project is at the end of the day.” Jones, Smith, Chuang and their students are moving forward on a plan to turn the post into a museum to highlight its history as a way to recruit, retain and engage members. “Let’s get more people by telling them the history,” Jones said. “This history really became important because of the attractiveness of what we have to offer people. This is not only educating us there (at the post) but getting people to recognize The American Legion as a whole. If I were a young veteran, this history is something I would want to be part of.” Post Vice Commander John Hicks agreed. “We talked about it and figured this is a wonderful idea if we can get it to work,” the Korean War veteran said. “A lot of people don’t know the post exists.” Amid the photos, flags, awards, ledgers and newspaper articles, one can also learn about the civil rights movement. “When we think of the civil rights movement, we imagine these organizations growing in the 1950s and 1960s,” Chuang said. “We often overlook the first civil rights organizations that were formed by veterans returning after World War I and II. They returned to cities like D.C. that were still segregated. And they decided to use their empowerment through these organizations to fight to make sure their rights were preserved. It’s a wonderful story that The American Legion can tell through its own members and posts.” Smith and Chuang obtained a $10,000 collaborative faculty research grant for the post project. The money was used to pay for the creation of a website that showcases the post and its history, restoration of historic photos, and transportation to and from the post. Students who participate in the project gain important real life opportunities to use what they learned in law and communications. Additionally, the students are filled with a renewed love of history and a dose of humility. Through their research, law students JimShir Harris and Alex Morgan discovered various artifacts dating back almost a century. Among the findings was a photo of Post 5 namesake James Reese Europe with Red Cross nurses sometime around World War I. Europe was a well-known bandleader and among the first African-Americans in combat. He served as a lieutenant in the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters. Other findings included various photographs, documents and letters, including one from the post to Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, inviting him to speak at one of their events in 1924. Jones credits the students. “They have changed our focus from ‘What are we going to do if the post closes?’ to ‘How do we keep alive?’” he said. “That’s what all this is about.” It’s been a rewarding experience for the students. “All of the history of the post is really interesting information,” Harris said. “We do try to have events on behalf of Post 5 to get more people to hear about the history. And once we do that, we always get great feedback. It helps generate membership. We want these events to bring post members together, as well as bring in new members.” Already, the effort has resulted in some new members. Post 5 is starting to recruit through American University and is connecting with student veterans, including some who have joined the post. “The interest is there,” Jones said. “We can’t do it without numbers. We can’t do it without membership. You need the membership to get those things done.” He is appreciative of the effort by university faculty and students. “It’s important for a minority group that has been underrepresented in education,” said Jones, an Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam War. “And that’s what the museum is about. If we plan to stay alive, people need to see that we are worthy. Our focus is getting more people to come and join us.” Smith sees a convergence in the post’s history. “It is intertwined in stories about arts, civil rights and civic engagement,” she said. “And even about the development of cities.” Once the museum is up and running, Smith said, “the next step would be to bring in new people with new ideas for the post.” She mentioned other potential uses for the post and its archives such as hosting book readings, providing space for other community groups to meet there, and allowing scholars to review and write about the post’s history. “That’s a way we could give the post a life beyond itself.” The timing is critical as yoga studios, farm-to-table restaurants and other modern-day storefronts are surrounding the post building, Chuang noted. “The neighborhood around it is changing so rapidly that the post may be one of the only surviving vestiges of the African-American community that was there,” she said. “It’s all changing.” Once Post 5 has stabilized, Jones sees that as an opportunity to be a good community leader. “We want people to come to be a part of us,” he said. “When we get our feet on the ground and have enough people, we may try some legislative things like they used to do. We’re so busy trying to stay alive that we aren’t able to do those things. We need some boots on the ground to do good things in the community. We simply don’t have it now.”   By Henry Howard
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Next weekend, more than 500 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., the nation’s largest and oldest war veterans’ organization begin rallying in Washington, D.C., to voice the concerns of veterans directly with the nation’s lawmakers during the 2017 VFW Legislative Conference, Feb. 26 – March 2. The annual conference strengthens the VFW’s advocacy efforts on behalf of America’s veterans, service members and their families, as VFW members meet with elected representatives in the House and Senate to discuss the VFW’s stance on a number of high priority veterans’ issues. The 2017 VFW Legislative Conference culminates on March 1, as VFW National Commander Brian Duffy testifies before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, where he will lay out the VFW’s top legislative priorities for the year. Other highlights will include the presentation of the VFW Congressional Award to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Voice of Democracy Parade of Winners, and the announcement of the national Voice of Democracy first-place $30,000 scholarship winner. The VFW will again livestream from this year’s conference. Visit on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. EST to watch as the legislative conference kicks off with the Voice of Democracy Parade of Winners, followed by the delayed streaming of the VFW national commander’s testimony available on March 1 at 5 p.m. Look for #VFWDC2017 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and be sure to visit for all the latest legislative conference updates beginning Feb. 26.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has received a $10 million grant for its proposed education center in Washington. The Washington Post ( reported Tuesday that the fund says the grant from the Lilly Endowment is the largest single cash donation in the fund's 37-year history. It has been trying to raise money to build the underground Education Center next to its memorial on the Mall since 2003. The 25,000-square-foot center will display artifacts left at the memorial over the years as well as first-person accounts of veterans and citizens. There'll also be a two-story wall showing the faces of the 58,000 people whose names are etched on the memorial. With the Lilly donation, the fund says it now has $42.5 million of the $130 million it needs to raise. ---
As a veteran who herself felt the fear of trying to find a job, Stephanie Stone recognizes how important events like Wednesday’s Hiring Our Heroes career event in Los Angeles can be. “I think these opportunities are wonderful because they are multilayered,” said Stone, the chief deputy director of the Los Angeles Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “… It’s really creating the environment for success.” Stone, a member of American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, was one of the featured speakers at Wednesday’s event at Staples Center, which included a workshop for job seekers on résumé building, networking and interview tips, as well as a job fair. A Navy veteran, Stone shared her experience of losing her first post-military job when the recession hit in 2008. As a single parent of two high school age children, and with a mortgage, losing her job left her “scared to say the least.” “I didn’t know what to do next and, more importantly, I didn’t know where I was going to end up. But I did know I was going to succeed, and that was largely because of what the military had given to me,” she said, emphasizing the military’s philosophy of “improvise, adapt and overcome.” She encouraged the job seekers on hand Wednesday to remember that, and to reach out beyond the employers on hand. “Not only are you going to go out there and shake the hands of employers and HR directors, your job is to go out and find 10 battle buddies that you’re going to connect with,” she said. “Your job is to motivate each other, to provide resources and links to these job opportunities that you find here. Your job is to help that person out as much as they’re going to help you out. That is your new mission.” Stone said it’s important to “reach back and pick up the next person that’s struggling to come up.” “We should never think that we are going to these events and nothing will happen because at the least you’ve made those connections. At the most, you’ve connected with an employer who’s going to end up hiring you,” she said. Lt. Col. Derwin Brown, the West region director of the U.S. Army Soldier for Life program, encouraged the 300-plus job seekers to “take full advantage of this opportunity.” Approximately 75 employers were on hand for the event, which included the opportunity for job seekers to receive up to two free tickets to Wednesday night’s game between the L.A. Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks.   By Andy Proffet  
Government data obtained by The Associated Press show that incidents of drug loss or theft at federal hospitals have jumped nearly tenfold since 2009 to 2,457 last year, spurred by widespread opioid abuse in the U.S. Federal authorities report that doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff - mostly in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system - had siphoned away controlled substances, while in other cases, drugs intended for patients simply disappeared. Some notable cases involving alleged VA drug theft: --- ARKANSAS Three VA employees in Little Rock were charged this month with conspiring to steal prescription medications, including opioids, from the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital. A 2016 investigation by the VA inspector general's office alleges that a pharmacy technician used his VA access to a medical supplier's web portal to order and divert 4,000 oxycodone pills, 3,300 hydrocodone pills and other drugs, costing the VA $77,700. The VA employees were also charged with conspiring to distribute those drugs, which had a street value of more than $160,000. --- UTAH An associate chief of pharmacy at the VA medical center in Salt Lake City recently pleaded guilty to acquiring possession of a controlled substance by fraud, according to the inspector general's office. The VA employee was accused of diverting about 25,000 pills, including oxycodone, hydromorphone, Adderall, buprenorphine, Ritalin, and tramadol from the inpatient pharmacy from October 2011 to March 2015. A spokeswoman for the VA facility, Jill Atwood, has said the hospital since added new software, training and made procedural changes to ensure that similar thefts don't happen again. --- NEW YORK A former hospice nurse at the VA medical center in Albany was sentenced last year to more than six years in prison after admitting to stealing pain medication intended for patients. An investigation alleges the VA nurse stole the painkiller oxycodone hydrochloride from syringes to feed his drug addiction and replaced the contents with Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication. At his sentencing hearing, family members of some of the hospice patients gave statements detailing the pain and suffering the nurse inflicted on dying veteran patients. --- RHODE ISLAND A former registered nurse in the intensive care unit of the Providence VA medical center pleaded guilty last year to stealing prescription drugs. Authorities say the nurse admitted that on dozens of occasions over several months in 2015 she used an override feature of an automated medication dispensing system to obtain hundreds of controlled substance pills, such as oxycodone and morphine. The pills weren't prescribed for or provided to patients. The IG's office says the nurse had previously been fired from a private hospital for allegedly diverting controlled substances, but was hired at the VA after making false claims in her application. --- CALIFORNIA A former resident anesthesiologist at the VA medical center in West Los Angeles pleaded guilty in 2015 to theft of public property and possession of a controlled substance while treating a veteran. Authorities say while providing anesthesia care to a veteran in surgery, the doctor passed out in the operating room after taking a sedative and injecting himself with controlled substances including fentanyl. His fully conscious patient lay nearby and said he was initially frightened that the commotion was due to his own medical condition, according to news reports. --- Sources: Justice Department and VA inspector general's office
Newswise — CHARLOTTE, N.C. -  Veterans returning from active duty often face serious challenges as they reintegrate to civilian roles. This task can be even more demanding when the service member has suffered a traumatic injury. Supporting veterans and their families through this process is the focus of the 2017 UNC Charlotte Veterans' Health Conference. The conference will emphasize biopsychosocial issues related to reintegration, including physical health challenges faced by this population and access to and use of services among veterans, service members and their families, including potential strategies for supporting reintegration to their life roles in the community. “While asking ‘Have You Ever Served in the Military?’ is an important start, it must be accompanied by an in-depth understanding of what it means to have served and what the accompanying health risks are for that individual based on when and where they served,” said Maj. Gen. Margaret Wilmoth, deputy surgeon general for mobilization, readiness and Army Reserve affairs, and a keynote speaker at the event. “Joining Forces for Veteran Health and Reintegration” will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28, in UNC Charlotte’s Popp Martin Student Union. Other keynote speakers include:James Prosser, assistant secretary for veterans affairs, N.C. Department of Military and Veterans AffairsRichard Tedeschi, a professor in the UNC Charlotte Department of Psychology whose research focuses on posttraumatic growth in survivors of various traumas, including combat "‚ÄčIn the aftermath of a traumatic experience some people may find posttraumatic growth, and this is true for veterans as well, said Tedeschi. “This growth may involve a greater sense of personal strength, appreciation of life, relating to others, new possibilities in life or spiritual change. A combination of a program based on posttraumatic growth principles, in a setting that fosters reflection and within a safe interpersonal environment, may have the best opportunity for promoting optimal reintegration for veterans." The Feb. 28 conference, which is free and open to the public (registration information on the web), will feature a research poster session and opportunities for audience interaction and questions with the presenters. Attendees also will have the opportunity to visit a vendor fair that will feature community service providers. “North Carolina is home to more than 800,000 veterans and the third largest military force in the United States,” said Prosser. “Meeting the needs of service members, veterans and families requires interagency cooperation and collaboration.” In March, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry will publish a special issue on veteran reintegration featuring research by UNC Charlotte Academy for Veteran and Military Health Director Christine Elnitsky. Advance copies of the publication are available.    
Abstract Veterans experience higher levels of unemployment than the general population. When you include those who have left the workforce, Veterans have a 52% unemployment rate compared to a 40% unemployment rate for the general population (US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan 2017). My intent for this article is to give unemployed, underemployed and Veterans in career transitions techniques, which will improve the probability of finding, securing, and retaining gainful employment for the Veteran population. THE CAREER TRANSITION PROCESS I have been retired since 2004 and the challenges of finding employment for transitioning service members, and Veterans who are changing jobs, have not changed. We still have issues with Veterans not speaking the language of the civilian industry into which they want to transition. We have civilians with mythical preconceptions of what and who Veterans are, and most of all we have an unrealistic expectation of what the whole process is really like. I will try to lay it out for my Brothers and Sisters who are facing employment challenges. Establishing Realistic Expectations Let’s get something straight, unless you were in a decision making position at a military organization who purchased heavily from the defense contracting community, there is no one outside the gate drooling, waiting on you to come strolling out and hire you. Equally important is they do not have that $60-$80K job about which your battle-buddies told you. If that opportunity exists, you are not being hired for what you know, rather, WHO you can provide the company access to. Once your access becomes dated, your employment is at risk. Companies care about your service, they care about your sacrifices, but if you do not have the technical skills they are looking for, none of your military soft skills will get you hired into anything but entry-level positions (those skill sets will get you promoted faster though). For instance, if a Marine infantryman leaves after six years of active service, let us say she made Staff Sergeant. She has a boatload of leadership experience and considerable skills in critical thinking and problem solving, but those skills will not get her hired into a management position at a manufacturing facility, which uses CNC or other automated tools to produce the items.   Not all Veterans are created equal. In today’s vernacular when companies hear the term “Veteran” the mental image they pick up is a transitioning member of the armed forces, generally a combat hardened Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. To them it is a label. They forget the true definition of Veteran; we have Veterans from the Viet Nam era in the workforce, those of the Cold War, and those from the modern era. While they share similar experiences, those of the modern era have a much different outlook than those from the preceding eras. Each era of Veteran faces their own set of employment challenges. The Job Search Process Finding your why. Your first step should be to find out not only what you do well, but also WHY you want to do it. It cannot be for the money, making money is a consequence of labor. Sooner or later you are going to wake up one morning and think to yourself “They don’t pay me enough to put up with this bullsh!t.” That is when you know you have lost your “Why.” Knowing your “Why” helps you identify the industry and geography you want to work in. Networking. Now start networking in the industry and in the location. You have a network, people who you have worked for, with and have worked for you in the past, your old leaders who have left the military, people with whom you go to church, people in your hobby groups, all are good places to start building your network.   When you get the chance to speak with your connections, it is bad form to ask for a job. If you do not know the person well, or the company he or she works for, you are fishing in the dark and this puts your relationship at risk. If the company does not have a position, your contact will reply in the negative. This puts the conversation at a disadvantage. If there is a position, but your contact does not think you are a fit, they must state either you are not a fit (awkward), or they must lie and say there is no position. With either response the result is the same, the conversation goes south and it could damage your relationship. Instead, get insights, information and introductions relevant to your job search. What certificates do companies in your industry hold in high regard, do you really need a degree? What do I need to do to be competitive in this market? They will notice you are looking for your next opportunity. If the company has a position and you are a fit, your contact will let you know. Find your job opportunities. Do not limit your online searches to the major job boards. 80% or more of positions either do not make the job boards or are filled by the time they appear online. A better technique is to go to the company website and look for their internal careers portal. If a company has a position listed there, you are more likely to be applying to an existing position. Targeting your resume. Target your resume. As soon as you find a position, print it out, go through it and determine what the employer is really asking for. What pain is the company experiencing that this position will make go away? Then using civilian terminology write your resume to the keywords for those areas.   Your application (including resume) will go into an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which looks for keywords to rank order the applications. The more keyword hits, the higher the resume is to the top of the stack. You could be the redeeming quality for the company, but if you do not have the keywords, the hiring manager will never see your resume. Most companies has policies that limit any new hire to ones who have applied through the ATS. This is where your networking comes into play. If you find the position through networking your connection can alert the hiring manager to your application, even provide the hiring manager with a copy of your resume. The hiring manager can them go into the ATS and pull your application, regardless of where it is in the stack. This is why networking is always more effective in your job search than simply applying to an online or newspaper add. Interviewing. Interviewing for a position is much different in today’s market. If the company selects you for consideration for a position they may call you to set up another telephone interview, sometimes you may have multiple phone interviews before the company calls you in for an in-person interview. This initial in-person interview could be with a panel of individuals from different areas of the company. At this point, you have shown you have the technical skills necessary, now the company is looking for cultural fit. You will normally have one panel interview, after which the HR representative will set up an interview with the hiring manager. This process is much like a sports tournament. The goal is not to win the tournament, but to not allow the company to eliminate your from consideration before the final round. Be prepared during the interview, research the company, and check everything you can think of, to include stock market performance for a publically traded company. Read the news releases to see if there are insights you can use in the interview. Also, be prepared for after interview conduct. Executives sometimes ask gatekeepers what their initial impression was. If you are short, blunt, and impersonal with the gatekeeper, you may not receive a promising referral. Instead, you need to smile, say please and thank you. Leave a thank you note for the interviewer with the gatekeeper. Showing your appreciation can be the discriminator if you and another candidate are both good fits for the position. Some Final Thoughts Finding a job is a full time job. Make sure you put the effort into finding the job of your dreams you will put into performing the job.   By Mark J. Colomb
Do you associate the concept of networking with kissing up, lying or not be authentic? The concept of networking is often seen as distasteful by veterans. During your military career, it was important to build relationships and credibility with influencers and stakeholders, but you might believe you did it naturally, not in a forced or strategic manner. In the civilian world, networking is a huge career catalyst. Nurturing current relationships with people that will vouch for you and support you become a network to help advance your current position. Your Network Buys You Brand CapitalAs you transition to a civilian career, broaden your perspective of networking– online and in person – to build strategic relationships with colleagues, influencers, and contacts who can grow your career in meaningful ways. What is Networking? Networking is a mutually beneficial, reciprocal business relationship. In a networking situation, both people must perceive some benefit from the relationship, but the benefit does not need to be the exact same thing. Consider this example: John and Tim are sales professionals at different firms, and are networking contacts. They frequently see each other at business events, seminars, and conferences. John values Tim's insights into industry trends and his mentorship as John grows his career. Tim values John’s feedback on his own sales style and communication skills, which is something Tim is working on. They each benefit from the relationship. When you network with someone, you commit to sharing knowledge, support, and resources. Relationships take time to develop to a comfortable level of trust. At the outset of a new networking relationship, contacts might simply exchange pleasantries, connect online, and initiate a meeting to learn more about how each party can help and benefit from the relationship. Later, as they learn more about each other, the parties might share more confidential information. Networking Basics To get started building your professional network, consider these steps:1. Categorize your contactsAs you leave the military, you might feel you don’t know anyone. That’s not true! Make a list of your contacts, including: the men and women with whom you served; alumni from high school, college, graduate school; colleagues and co-workers from current and past jobs; and people you've met at events, job fairs, and other gatherings, contacts you’ve met through your spouse, socially, or through any transition prep courses. This is the start of your network. 2. Identify who you should know To build your next career, who are the people you should, or would like, to know? Are there industry leaders, experts or collaborators in careers who could help you get started? Who are the people who get mentioned in conversations as being influential? Are there mentors you’d like to work with? Make a list of people you believe would be helpful to you. Then, identify ways you could help them: Could you provide insight into the military culture? Do they need to know someone with your skills or expertise? Are there connections you could make for them? 3. Plan how you can introduce yourselfWhen you’ve identified a contact you should know, what is the best way to connect? Do you know someone who knows them? Are you connected somehow online? Do you attend the same industry events? When you initiate contact – in person or on a social networking site – be sure to introduce yourself, clarify why you are reaching out to connect, and how you can help them. 4. Start with your elevator pitchYour elevator pitch is how you answer the question, “what do you do?” Be sure you clearly state what your job is (or what you seek), how you are unique (what makes you memorable?) and share an example of how you can help others. You might consider answering this way: I do “X” for “Y” to solve “Z”.NOTE: To learn more about the elevator pitch and networking, tune into our webinar on March 28! 5. Don’t take rejection personallyIf the person you want to connect with does not return the favor, don’t take it personally. If you introduce yourself to them at a business event and they seem disinterested there are a myriad of possible reasons (they might be waiting for someone, not in the mood to meet someone new, distracted from a bad day, etc.) Online, if the person rejects your invitation to connect, they might be too busy or distracted to pay attention to your offer. If they don’t know you, how could they reject you personally? Consider this before you take it to heart. Always be yourself when building a network of contacts. When you are genuine, people want to get to know you and help you. Then, act with generosity and curiosity, and you will make a positive impression on the people in the community in which you will work! Developed through the VFW’s collaboration with Lida Citroën of the international brand strategy firm LIDA360, this article is part of the VFW’s expanding education and transitioning services, resources and webinars designed to provide service members and veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce with an opportunity to learn about personal branding and strategies for navigating the job search process. To learn more about Lida’s commitment to the veteran community, check out her recent TEDX talk.    By Lida Citroën, principal, LIDA360
National Commander Schmidt and others stroll through Hollywood during the California Walk for Veterans. Photo by Jon Endow Los Angeles area veterans stroll through Hollywood during the California Walk for Veterans. Photo by Jon Endow Walkers pose for selfies with the National Commander during the California Walk for Veterans in Hollywood. Photo by Jon Endow Los Angeles area veterans gather at Post 43 in Hollywood for the California Walk for Veterans. Photo by Jon Endow A few of the walkers managed to hitch a ride during the California Walk for Veterans in Hollywood. Photo by Jon Endow
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Monday easily confirmed physician David Shulkin to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, charged with delivering on President Donald Trump's campaign promises to fix long-standing problems at the department. Senators voted 100-0 to approve the former Obama administration official, who was the VA's top health official since 2015, in a rare show of bipartisanship amid partisan rancor over Trump's other nominees. Shulkin secured the backing of Senate Democrats after pledging at his confirmation hearing to always protect veterans' interests, even if it meant disagreeing at times with Trump. The 57-year old physician has ruled out fully privatizing the agency and says wide-scale firings of VA employees are unnecessary, describing the VA workforce as "the best in health care." Trump had made accountability and rooting out wrongdoing a cornerstone of VA reforms, having called the department "the most corrupt." Shulkin is the first nonveteran to head the government's second-largest agency, which has nearly 370,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $167 billion. He'll have plenty to do once sworn in. Shulkin has acknowledged that Congress should hold him to a higher standard of faster results as a former VA official who has laid initial groundwork for changes. He says he should be fired from his job if, like some VA secretaries before him, he isn't able to significantly fix problems and regain veterans' trust. "You're not going to hear me asking for a learning curve," Shulkin said at his hearing. "I don't have a lot of patience and I am going to be serious about making these changes and regaining that trust." The immediate challenge includes revamping scheduling and access for VA medical appointments following a 2014 wait-time scandal. Shulkin is urging a more integrated VA network where veterans could seek outside private care only in coordination with the VA. He has not sketched out full details. "We've yet to hear from him how he'll pursue President Trump's vision for a public-private partnership at the VA," said Dan Caldwell, policy director for the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America. Shulkin also will have to address long backlogs for veterans who apply for disability payments - he calls its appeals system "broken - and grapple with the White House's order of a 90-day federal hiring freeze. According to Shulkin, the White House agreed to exempt 37,000 out of 45,000 VA vacancies, but major veterans organizations say much more hiring is needed to eliminate red tape.   BY HOPE YENASSOCIATED PRESS