Keynote Speaker, Memorial Day Service 2010, Atlanta, GA
Vicki Chan-Padgett, PAC, MPAS
Director and Associate Professor
School of Physician Assistant Studies
Touro University Nevada
There is an old Chinese curse that goes: “May you live in interesting times.” The last 15 years have indeed been interesting, for our nation, our Armed Forces, our profession, and our Caucus.
We have gone from a victorious nation at peace to a wounded nation at war. We have seen a new generation of physician assistants step forward to answer the call of their nation, who are carrying on the tradition of service to country and humanity, who continue to put service above self. We in the Veterans Caucus have welcomed and will continue to embrace this new generation of veterans. We know where they have been, for we have been down the same path, bound similar wounds, comforted the sick, wounded, and dying.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, a day that dawned bright and clear but ended in smoke and dust, members of this caucus were not found wanting. Mary Ann Ramos, at the Pentagon, ran INTO the fire and smoke – instead of away from it – to give first aid, organize survivors, and give what care she could with the little she had available. Closer to Ground Zero in New York, caucus member Gordon Huie was to meet his sister at the World Trade Center. Instead, he saw the towers fall and putting aside personal anguish, organized a makeshift clinic in a cafeteria across from the Trade Center, where he triaged and stabilized patients.
Shortly after 9-11 the longest war in our history began, as our nation took the fight to the enemy, and those who would support him. Physician assistants acting as battalion surgeons formed the vital first link in medical care for the wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Riding in APCs, going over mountain trails, on the flight line or on board ship, PAs were in the vanguard, and also in the critical support role. Actions of military PAs and the heroism they have displayed are well documented. Some, like my husband who became the Public Health Officer for Baghdad, found themselves doing their best to try to repair a broken and outmoded health care system. As violence escalated, their efforts meant that many indigenous people survived who would otherwise not have had care.
2005 saw our first military PA, CPT Sean Grimes, killed in action. There would be others. The same year also saw the father of our profession, Dr. Eugene Stead, pass into history.
As our nation has suffered loss in past years, so have we in the Veterans Caucus. We have seen the final post for our brothers Dave “Bubba” Gwinn, Tom Lemly, and Ken Gartzke, to name but three. It is hard to overstate the value that these men brought to our profession, their branches of service, and to this caucus. We have also seen the loss of a son, Craig Ivory, who put on the uniform like his father before him and died while serving his country. Their departure leaves a space in our ranks that cannot be easily filled. But like the standard bearers of previous wars, someone – one of us – will step forward to grasp the flag, lest it fall. We are inspired by them, but we close ranks and continue the mission.
But the past 15 years have also brought us reasons for celebration. We have had some great weddings (mine included) at our Topics in the Tropics conferences. We have awarded many thousands of dollars in scholarships for veteran PA students, we continue our annual quality CME program, Topics in the Tropics, where education and fun co-exist and great memories are made. Over the years, attendees at the Topics conferences have made things a little better in the host countries through generous donations to local shelters and orphanages.
The caucus has, and continues to recognize, the contributions of outstanding physician assistants, both uniformed and civilian, through its annual recognition awards here at our ceremony. You know these men and women. Their exemplary service and commitment continue to inspire us long after the applause has died away.
Through newsletter articles and CME presentations by its Veterans Health Care Committee, the Veterans Caucus has been active in informing the public and the profession about health concerns of veterans, to include such problems as PTSD, Agent Orange, traumatic brain injury and conditions at veterans’ hospitals.
At the 20th anniversary for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, four caucus members travelled to Washington DC to stand honor guard while all 58,000 names were read, showing the caucus support for those who have fallen.
Our Memorial Day services have, in the past 15 years, continued to grow in attendance and scope. We have recognized the contributions of such diverse groups as minority PAs to women in uniform to Special Operations forces. We took time out to recognize that group who gives of themselves most of all: the families of our military and veterans. We saw Major Lucinda Wilson, the daughter of our Caucus President, speak of her deployment after returning from 14 months in operation Iraqi Freedom. We were- and are- all very proud of her.
We are also proud that the first physician assistant to be named a flag officer in the uniformed services, is a long time member of our caucus. ADM Mike Milner has a long record of service both to the United States Public Health Service and the Veterans Caucus. ADM Milner has our support and admiration as he continues his efforts to make this nation healthier for all.
For me, there are a few things that tie the last 15 years of Veterans Caucus history together. These can be viewed in terms of what General McArthur said to a West Point graduating class years ago. Those are simply Duty, Honor, and Country.
We see our duty as Americans, as PAs, as colleagues and mentors. And we do that duty. Not because we are compelled, but because it is the right thing to do.
We honor the service, sacrifice, courage and vision of those who have pioneered our profession, of all American and Allied veterans –especially this Memorial Day. We honor the genuine heroes in our profession and in this room, and we honor the memory of those brothers and sisters who have gone on.
Country. Our country, that for which so many have given so much. Sometimes it is difficult to define why we feel compelled to put on the uniform, eat bad food, get no sleep, march in the rain, and maybe have unappreciative people try to put holes in our anatomy. But if you have worn that uniform, you understand.
We have accomplished much, and there is more to do. As long as the veteran returns from the fight and has need of us, the Veterans Caucus will welcome him or her with camaraderie, friendship and service. And maybe even a beer! As we look back on the last 15 years of the Caucus, indeed the last 30, we can look back with pride, a little laughter, and some tears, too.
Sir Isaac Newton, speaking of the development of science in his generation, used a phrase that we can certainly apply to the Veterans Caucus: “I can see this far because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”