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Veterans discuss how serving their country led them to work in psychiatry

On this Veterans Day, the Department of Psychiatry is proud to highlight many current and former U.S. military members making a difference at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

When you speak to the veterans in the department, they talk about how their time in the armed services has helped them as medical assistants, nurses, and doctors. Clinical therapist Jason Lemen, LMHP, LPC, LADC, said serving in the U.S. Air Force gave him a bigger perspective on life than he would have been able to attain without it.

“I deployed four times to Southwest Asia, and I was fortunate to work with people from all over the world each time,” Lemen said. “No matter where you went or what you were doing, you were always meeting new people – all with different backgrounds, creeds, nationalities, and stories. It developed my appreciation for our differences, and I’m thankful for all the people I served with who influenced me along the way. 10/10 would do it again.”

Physician Assistant Laura Fuller, MPAS, PA-C, said her time in the U.S. Air Force shaped who she is as a person and medical provider with the Department of Psychiatry.

“I entered the military in 2010 as a sensitive young lady from Fremont, Nebraska, who really hadn’t seen much of the world,” she said. “The first transition to a new job, in a new city with a new group of people thousands of miles away from home and my family was difficult. However, I quickly learned that co-workers are actually a family – love ’em or hate ’em – and that you really just have to make the best of situations that aren’t perfect. The spirit of adapt and overcome continues to serve me well as a civilian medical provider.”

Douglas Coffey, RN, joined the Department of Psychiatry this year. His military experience helped prepare him for a career as a nurse.

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have my nursing education paid for through the U.S. Army Reserves. After completion of nursing school, I began my nursing career at Nebraska Psychiatric Institute,” Coffey said. “Through the military, I had the opportunity to have unique experiences that helped me develop and expand my Nursing skills and abilities. I served in the military for nearly 34 years, serving in positions from a Medic to Commander of an Army Hospital. Those skills contributed to having a great civilian career in both psychiatric and acute care services in 5 states and a variety of healthcare institutions. My Army experience contributed to those roles in very diverse organizations.”

Howard Liu, MD, MBA, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, said a rotation at the Veterans Affairs Building played a significant role in his decision to become a psychiatrist.

“It was such a privilege to work with people who have sacrificed so much for our country,” Dr. Liu said. “I’m thrilled to see the contributions from our veterans and military families to our department, from the front desk to clinical care. You are making a difference and saving lives.”

For decades, residents in the UNMC/Creighton program have trained at the Omaha Veterans Affairs (V.A.) Medical Center. In 2019, UNMC started its own residency program, and the first-year residents will begin training at the Omaha VA in January. First-year resident Logan Ford, MD, served in the U.S. Army, and second-year resident Matthew Kelly, MD, served in the U.S. Navy.

“My time in the service was instrumental in my development as a physician and as a leader,” said Dr. Kelly, who was a flight surgeon for Patrol Squadron 47. “I learned that fundamentally, every patient has a need to be heard and understood. This is the cornerstone of any treatment plan, and it is a lesson I carry with me every day in the practice of psychiatry.”

Stephen Salzbrenner, MD, and Randy Vest, RN, served in the U.S. Navy. Stacey Herbster, MD, served in the U.S. Army National Guard and Army Reserves from 1995-2006.

Scheduler Caroline Davenport served in the U.S. Army for two years as a Petroleum Supply Specialist.

Along with staff members in the armed services, the department also has staff members with spouses in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Master Sergeant William Lundy is the husband of Laura Schutte-Lundy, LIMHP, LADC, in child and adolescent psychiatry. Master Sergeant Lundy has served in the Air Force for 14 years.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Anthony Finigan is the husband of Amber Finigan, PA. He has served since October of 2018 and is currently serving on the USS Alaska Blue.

Inclusion Program Associate Jhoanna Olmos returned to the department this month after spending two months at Fort Sam Houston at Joint Base San Antonio. She is a 70B Health Services Administrator in the National Guard. After the training, Olmos will be transitioning into a medical platoon leader role with the 1-134 Cavalry Regiment.

“I feel very privileged to manage the training, development, planning and logistics for our medics so that they have all they need to be successful—whether they are providing excellent care here in Nebraska, or beyond. I may be biased, but throughout my career, I have never been less than impressed by my peers, leadership, subordinate leaders, and providers in the military medical field,” Olmos said. “I believe that at the lowest level, medics are the heart and soul of our country’s fighting force, and at the highest level, that our Army Health System is second to none. This, and every veteran’s day, I am endlessly proud of anyone who has ever served our country honorably. Thank you for service!”

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1 comment

  1. Lena Bolivar Johnson says:

    You are all amazing, and I’m grateful to have an opportunity to thank you all (especially Jhoanna, my colleague) on this Veterans Day. Thank you for serving!

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