More than 100 students, faculty, and staff at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) crowded into a classroom – and then overflowed into the hallway – to attend a Veteran’s Appreciation Day event hosted by the Student Occupational Therapy Association (S.O.T.A.) on Friday, Nov. 11.
Lt. Col. Isaac Bristow, a campus operations manager at SMU’s Sacramento Campus, told the audience he was grateful for the SMU students who would one day be tasked with treating veterans.
“One thing about the military is they train you how to fight,” Bristow said, “but they don’t train you how to come back. So you’re the ones who will someday work in hospitals, helping us learn how to walk again, teaching us how to improve our speech and integrate with our families.”
The link between occupational therapy and military service is strong, said student Alondra Ammon, president of SOTA and an Air Force veteran.
“As OT’s, it will be our job to help people function as independently as possible,” Ammon said. “We’ll be there to help veterans integrate into civilian life and live their life to the fullest.”
The University has become well-known for its resource programs available to students with a military history, said Dennis McReynolds, an Army combat veteran and SMU’s veterans resource coordinator.
Five year ago, there were 12 veteran students at SMU, McReynolds said. Today, there are 36, including 11 staff and faculty, and the University is recognized as a Yellow Ribbon campus that provides special educational opportunities for veterans.
The Yellow Ribbon Program allows institutions of higher learning to enter into dollar-for-dollar matching agreements with the federal government to pay for veterans’ educational costs that exceed those covered by the GI Bill benefit.
The event also included remarks from OT Professor Guy McCormack, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam.
McCormack said he was surprised, and thankful, to see such a large turnout to recognize those who’ve served in the military. When McCormack left the Navy in the 1970s, he said veterans were not as appreciated by fellow Americans as the unpopular war raged on.
“I have to be honest, I’m a little bit envious now,” McCormack said. “It’s great to see those who’ve served get the recognition they deserve.”