PA program launches drive to help homeless veterans

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | October 31, 2017

Image with caption: Fran Higgins, Wayne Mathews and an empty donation bin. UNMC students, faculty and staff can help the College of Allied Health Professions' Physician Assistant Program fill it.

Fran Higgins, Wayne Mathews and an empty donation bin. UNMC students, faculty and staff can help the College of Allied Health Professions' Physician Assistant Program fill it.

The profession of physician assistant has its roots in the Vietnam War, according to Wayne Mathews, associate director of the UNMC physician assistant program and a naval veteran of Vietnam.

How to help

The College of Allied Health Professions' Physician Assistant Program is asking for donations of basic hygiene items, including toiletries, such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant, and seasonal clothing, such as hats, glove, mittens and scarves. The donations can be dropped off at a bin on the fourth floor of Bennett Hall, or departments can coordinate collections and contact Fran Higgins to pick up donations. The drive will end on Nov. 10, and donations will be delivered to the VA Medical Center.

"The profession grew from these skills that medics from a combat environment could bring to a health care environment to help supplement the gaps in coverage," he said.

The UNMC PA program has ties to the U.S. and Canadian military, educating military PAs through its Interservice Physician Assistant Program and Canadian Forces Program.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the PA program, which has been collecting items for the homeless during the holiday season for the past three years, recently began collecting items specifically for homeless veterans.

Fran Higgins, communication specialist for the College of Allied Health Professions, is married to a 15-year Air Force veteran of Operation Desert Storm who works at the VA. When he made her aware of the needs of homeless veterans who are served by the VA Medical Center, she joined with Mathews and other college leaders to create a donation program that has been operating for the past several months.

With Veterans Day approaching, the College of Allied Health Professions' Physician Assistant Program now is mounting a campus-wide drive that will begin tomorrow and run through Nov. 10. The program is collecting toiletries for homeless veterans being seen at the VA Medical Center, a UNMC partner. The drive is in honor of Veterans Day, which will be celebrated Nov. 11.

Volunteers needed

The VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System will hold an event called "Stand Down," aimed to help homeless veterans eligible for VA health care, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Grace University Field House, 820 Pine St. "Stand down" is a military term meaning soldiers are removed from combat to receive rest and rehabilitation. The event will offer free health care and other services. More than 100 volunteers are still needed to perform non-health care functions. To volunteer, contact Kerry Miller Loos at 402-599-0083.

"Knowing how much they've given of themselves, just being in the service -- and all the things that come after the fact, such as PTSD and struggles with substance abuse -- it seems a no-brainer to me that they deserve our help," Higgins said.

"Within our college, there are two Vietnam veterans, myself and Jim Temme," Mathews said. "And in my course of PA faculty work, I've taught some vets who had been deployed, including one whose education was actually interrupted and who came back with some significant PTSD. I had the privilege of being involved in shepherding him through that experience to successful graduation."

Mathews also volunteered providing pre-deployment physicals for the Army Reserve.

"Some of them were on their third or fourth deployment, and I really became aware of the sacrifice that these men and women were making," he said.

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Anne Lawlor
October 31, 2017 at 2:53 PM

This support for our veterans is so important. Thank you for doing this.

Kristi Brummels
October 31, 2017 at 8:59 AM

What a fabulous project! Thank you so much for supporting those who have given so much for us!