Samuel Merritt University (SMU) will honor the individuals who have served in the U.S. armed forces at a Veterans Day event that will also focus on the increasing role played by occupational therapists in the care of wounded warriors.
The event will feature several guest speakers and take place at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 in the Bechtel Room of the Health Education Center on SMU’s Oakland campus.
It is part of SMU’s commitment to helping veterans transition from military service to a career in the health sciences. The number of military veterans studying at SMU has increased tenfold in the past six years, with more than 40 veterans currently enrolled and eight more starting classes in January.
Recruiting veterans to enroll in SMU’s health sciences programs is a particular passion of Dennis McReynolds, who spent 15 years in the U.S. Army and now serves as the University’s veterans resource director.
McReynolds was instrumental in securing SMU’s participation in the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, which assists members of the military community in gaining access to higher education. Under the program, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs matches a $5,000 scholarship offered by SMU to each qualified veteran to pay for educational costs that exceed those covered by the GI Bill.
“It’s a great opportunity for them and it’s rewarding for me,” he says. “A lot of vets want to continue to serve and help people in trauma.”
McReynolds says his recruitment and ongoing support of student veterans is due in large part to the dedication of SMU staff and faculty members who have personal histories of serving in the armed forces.
While the majority of the veterans at SMU are former combat medics studying nursing, a growing number are pursuing occupational therapy. The profession was introduced in the 18th century as a way to treat mental illness, and after World War I occupational therapists were called on treat the physical injuries that soldiers sustained in battle. Now, occupational therapists are increasingly helping vets with brain injuries and PTSD to improve their ability to perform activities of daily living.
One of the speakers at the Veterans Day event will be SMU alumnae Alondra Ammon, who joined the Air Force when she was 18 and enrolled in the University’s occupational therapy program with a goal of working with vets who struggle with battlefield injuries. At SMU’s 2017 Commencement, Ammon was named “Outstanding Occupational Therapy Student.”
McReynolds is organizing the Veterans Day event with several students in SMU’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy program.
“All Americans should know the significance of Veterans Day,” says McReynolds. “It has always meant something to me and not just because I am a veteran. It is a day to thank our veterans and to respect the courage of these men and women.”
Other guest speakers at the Veterans Day event include:
- Air Force Lt. Col. John DaLomba, who is an occupational therapist.
- SMU Occupational Therapy Professor Guy McCormack, PhD, who served in Vietnam as a U.S. Navy Seabee.
- Randy Roach, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is SMU Enrollment and Student Services data and systems operations analyst.
- Major Lakishia Simmons, an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corp.