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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Visalia Campus honors veterans in the Physician Assistant Program

November 22, 2013


The Visalia Campus took time to honor those who had served, and continue to serve.

In early November, a special Veteran’s Day ceremony was held at SJVC Visalia, honoring  U.S. military veterans who attended the school’s Physician Assistant Program.

Notable attendees included Stewart Anderson, attending on behalf of California Assembly representative Connie Conway, and Bob Sachs, California Physician Assistant Board President.

A considerable number of veterans are enrolled in the program, but this is hardly surprising given the profession’s history. The first Physician Assistant class at Duke University in 1965 consisted mostly of former U.S. Navy corpsmen.

Sachs took the time to explain that many military medics, veterans of the Vietnam War, had returned home to find few job prospects, despite the medical skills granted by military service. It was with this in mind that the early P.A. programs were created: to prevent the squandering of the talents of veterans.

“Most of the faculty are veterans,” explains Jed Grant, faculty member. This even includes Don Wright, Visalia SJVC Campus Director. An Annapolis graduate, he served in the Navy for 30 years, flying over 200 combat missions in Vietnam, until eventual receiving his own command. Now, he manages a campus where fellow veterans can learn the skills they need to join the civilian workforce as medical personnel.

The highlight of the day was the presence of veterans from every major American conflict since the Second World War. There were veterans of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Among these soldiers was Ben Hagams, a courier from the U.S. Army deployed to the Pacific Theater in WWII. Acceding to the wishes of all present, Hagams approached the podium and gave a short speech, detailing his experience in the war.

As a messenger, he was captured by the Japanese and sent to a P.O.W. camp, but not before many of his fellow prisoners fell ill and died in the poor conditions. When he was finally rescued, he weighed only 56 pounds. He was sent back to an American military hospital, where he stayed for a year and a half, until he fully recovered.

“I have nothing but praise for the military and its nurses and doctors,” said Hagams.

SJVC is thankful for the service of its veterans, and the service they will continue to provide as graduates of the Physician Assistant Program. A mere weekend before Veteran’s day, respect was owed.

“This is our community, “said student Mario Lemus. “This is what we represent.”