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VAPAA Detailed History

Since the Founding of the Veteran Affairs Physician Assistant Association in 1984, there have been fifteen Presidents who have led this Association. Mike Lee and Jim Portt from Augusta Georgia VAMC were the two who first started this endeavor. This list is a historical testimony to those who dedicated their lives for a short time to this endeavor. We thank them for their years of service to the Association. We would like to thank the many Officers, Board members and Committee Chairs who also held office in VAPAA. Without their time and effort (and personal expense) none of this would exist.

The Roots
Although attempts at a VA PA Association were actually started back in the late 1970's, it never went anywhere. Originally called the "Veteran's Administration Physician Assistant Society (VAPAS)", an Ad Hoc Committee was formed in November 1983. According to the minutes of the Ad Hoc Committee, VACO contacts revealed there were "545 PA's nationwide at 108 of the 128 VA Health Care Delivery Stations." Phone calls were made to other VA Medical Centers and Points of Contact (POCs) were established with PAs at centers where a PA could be found. In December 1983, the eleven members of the Ad Hoc Committee anted-up $25 each to start the association, so mailing, reproduction and supplies could be purchased. By end of December about 100 contacts had been made with POCs. January 1984 the first mailing was sent to the POCs containing a letter of intent from the committee to all PAs to organize the VAPAS. "We mailed 500 cards to the 100 stations...We started to receive some of the cards late in the month from the field."

In February 1984 cards continued to come in. Of the 159 cards received at that time, all 159 responded with agreement with the concept of a national organization of VA Physician Assistants. On February 10, 1984 the Ad Hoc Committee met and agreed on a draft of the Constitution and By-laws. The meeting was recessed for one week while they could be set in final print. On February 17, 1984, when the refined documents were completed, they were adopted and officers were elected to serve on an interim basis. Those officers were Mike Lee and Nathanial A. (Nate) Brown from Augusta Georgia VAMC, who were the first President and Vice President; Patrick T. (Pat) Walters was Secretary; and Clarence E. Grier was Treasurer. At 1:00 pm on 17 February 1984 the first official meeting of the VAPAS was held. It lasted 25 minutes. The treasury had a grand total of $151.00. Carbon Stewart was appointed the Parliamentarian, and Jim Portt was the Public Relations Director. Later that year the VA Practitioner ran an article about the PAs at Augusta VAMC and the VAPAA.

Mike Lee was a very vocal, active member until he retired from the VA in 1995. Jim Portt remained a member of the Board of VAPAA as Military Liaison until 1990 and then moved on to the US Public Health Service. In 1989, VAPAA was chartered as a constituent chapter of the AAPA. Members grew slowly, yet steadily until the mid-1990's, when there was a slight drop off after the passage of the 1993 qualification standards and prescriptive privileges in 1995. Members who came into the Association up until the end of 1991 were given the distinction of using the title Founding Fellow. Officers initially held terms of office for two years (in the case of President, that meant six years - two as President-elect, two as President, and finally two as Immediate Past President) and ran from January to December two years later. In 1996 the term for the President was changed to 1 year, in 1999 the term moved from Jan-Dec to Jul-Jun and changed from President-elect to a Vice-President to conform with AAPA requirements.

 The Early (Foundation Building) Years

The First President - Mike Lee (1984 - 88) (4 years)
Mike was on active duty in USAF when he returned from SE Asia in 1971. He attended and graduated from the first class of military trained PAs and left the AF to work as a PA in Cardiology at the Augusta, Georgia VAMC. In 1982, he and several other PA's decided that the local (state) constituent chapters of the AAPA just weren't able or interested in helping the federally employed physician assistants. Therefore, in 1983 they founded the VA Physician Assistant Association. They started an ad hoc committee comprised of Mike, Carbon Stewart, Pat Walters, Andy Forbes, 'Bart' Bartee, Nate Brown, Jim Portt, Clarence Grier & Jesse LeClair. 

Once visits to VACO started, a perceived threat was felt, and some retribution was experienced. Mike was moved from cardiology to the Alzheimer's ward and eventually he secured a transfer to VAMC Asheville (NC). Here he had the pleasure of working with retired surgeon general of the Army, Dr. Quinn Becher, who was quite supportive of the PA concept and individual PAs as well. "We had prescription authority by '92 or '93."  During the early years he spent a lot of time trying to go between contacting one PA at every facility and lobbying in VA HQ for recognition of the needs of the PA. It was hard going because with such low numbers of PAs in the membership, the organization wasn't taken seriously. Mike retired from the VA in 1995, and says he never looked back. He is currently on the academic faculty at the Medical College of Georgia and is very busy, but still found time to come to the VAPAA CME Conference in 2001. He will be 60 next year, will be drawing retirement on his reserve commission as a major, and still works as a PA. He lives with his wife, Judy, in Black Mountain, NC on the side of a mountain "with a long range view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that I look at each morning and count my many blessings. Come by and see us if you are ever in western North Carolina."

Mike was the Interim President in 1984, and then elected for two terms from 1985 to 1988.  

(2) E. John Adams, BS, PA-C (1989 - 90) (2 years) 
John was the Secretary of the VAPAA form 1985 through 1987. When he first found out there was a VAPAA he called Mr. Mike Lee (founding father of the VAPAA) and asked if he could help with this fledgling organization. Mike asked John to run for Secretary, which he did and held that position for 2 years. John then ran for president and was president elect from 1987 through 1989 and president from 1989 through 1990. The big event that occurred during John Adams' presidency was VAPAA became a Chapter of AAPA in 1989. In fact we were the last Chapter to have been added since then. It occurred in the House of Delegates meeting in May 1989 in Washington DC. John was also instrumental in getting VAPAA started with a professional service group, The Phenix Corporation, of Richmond, VA.

His presidency was interrupted by Dessert Shield/Dessert Storm, when he returned to active duty with the US Navy. He was sent to Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic (FCTCA) at Dam Neck, VA. He back filled for the active duty personnel that were transferred to other duty stations during Dessert Shield/Dessert Storm at FCTCA Branch Clinic. Tom Zampieri, PA-C was President Elect at that time and took the reins of the last four months of John's Presidency. He spent seven months and nine days on active duty before returning to VAMC Richmond,VA. John was last known to be in the VA working now in Dallas in Spinal Cord Injury.

(3) Tom Zampieri (1991 - 1992) (2 years)
Tom, as President-elect, assumed control of the VAPAA in October 1990. He was then President from January 1991 to December 1992. Tom had been the Secretary, after John Adams, during the first presidency under Mike Lee. He learned a lot about VA politics during that time. During Tom's time as president, he elevated the pressure on VA Central Office. He lobbied Congress and met with leaders of the Veteran Service Organizations to ask their assistance in lobbying on our behalf. He enlisted the assistance of the AAPA Government Liaisons and made frequent trips to Washington from his home in Richmond, Virginia. He used his own car and gas money for most of these trips, and when Tom's eyesight began to fail, he paid his own ticket on the train to DC. His relentless efforts on the Hill led to many advancements for PAs including the ability to advance to Grade 13, prescriptive privileging and new qualification standards. Tom was Past-President for the next two years. During that time he was relentless in going to Congress and fighting for more PA rights and benefits.

Since leaving the presidency, Tom has been the Chair of the Legislative & Government Affairs Committee, and the major representative to Congress on our behalf. When VAPAA moved its home at Lakeside in Madison, Wisconsin to the AAPA in Alexandria, Virginia, Tom was asked to assume the role of Executive Director - a role he still holds today. Tom's efforts in lobbying Capitol Hill and VA Headquarters have made the VAPAA much of what it is today. Tom is at Houston VAMC in Urology. From there he hosted the 2000, 2001, and the 2002 VAPAA CME Conferences. He took a medical retirement from the VA in 2001 due to his poor eyesight but remained the Executive Director and Chief Lobbyist for VAPAA. He completed a Master's in Political Science in December 2002 and went on to use this to enhance his lobbying efforts with the Blinded Veterans Association in Washington, DC as their Director of Legislative & Government Affairs in 2005. See also an article about him at: http://www.usmedicine.com/article.cfm?articleID=1896&issueID=122

 The Middle (Structure Building) Years

(4) Tim Bauer (1993 - 1994) (2 years) 
Tim was at the helm for the period January 1993- December 1994. He was instrumental in having our professional offices moved to SMS in Madison, Wisconsin from The Phenix Corporation in Richmond, Virginia.. He hosted the First (Independent) VAPAA CME Conference in October 1994 in Minneapolis, MN. Previously VAPAA had to have its meetings in conjunction with other organizations at their conferences. Tim was the first chairperson of the VA PA Field Advisory Group, a position he held at the same time he was VAPAA President. During this time he was involved in writing the current VA physician assistant employment standards and also for adding the Chief Grade for PAs. Tim wrote the first VAPAA Policy Manual that had job descriptions for each officer and how to run elections, etc.

Tim graduated from the University of North Dakota PA Program in 1973. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Long Term Care Administration from Eckert College in 1983 and a Master of Public Health Degree from Pacific Western University in 1987. Tim has a license as a Nursing Home Administrator.

Tim lives in Hudson, Wisconsin. Presently he is a PA at the Minneapolis VAMC. He also does work at the Minneapolis Geriatric Research, Education & Clinical Center (GRECC) as the Deputy Associate Director-Education. If that weren't enough, he also works for the Minneapolis Veteran Research Institute and is on the faculty of the Department of Family Practice & Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  He also works for AccuMark, Inc. out of Hudson, WI as the Director of Medical Marketing. AccuMark does laser engraving of human implant devices. He was the VISN-13 Headquarters PA Representative before retiring in September of 2002.
(5) Joseph O. (Joe) Streff (1995 - 1996) (2 years) 
A 1979 graduate of the Marshfield Clinic PA Program, Joe began as one of the last "Founding" members, joining VAPAA in 1991, shortly after starting as the CT Surgery Coordinator at the VA in Milwaukee. At the urging of K.K.Anderson, a CT PA in Madison VAMC, he joined and volunteered his service as a committee member. He served as Chair of the Audit & Finance Committee from 1992-1994. Then in mid 1994, Bill Fenn, the President-elect, resigned and left the VA system. Joe was appointed to fill his position by the President. After taking office he and Tom Zampieri met with Dr. Kenneth Kizer, Undersecretary for VHA, urging him to sign the VA Directives that would allow PA prescribing and the overall utilization of PAs within the VA.

There were many challenges and controversies Joe met successfully. He twice had to replace the President-elects following him, as the first was asked to resign and the second left the VA system. Guidelines for dealing with impaired practitioner members was an item he had incorporated into the bylaws, and changing the term of office for the President from two years to one to help draw more candidates to the office. Joe moved the annual conference, and asked Leora Elli to host it in Memphis. (Leora graciously hosted the VAPAA CME Conference for three years in 1997 through 1999.) Joe also started and continued for three years to lobby the VA HR office in DC and won the ability to have payroll deduction for VAPAA dues. He continued as Newsletter editor for three years and was an elected Board Director from 1998 to 2001; he took over as Webmaster in 1999 until 2001. He founded the VISN 12 PA Council. Joe was the VISN 12 dSs Operations Manager on the VISN 12 CIO Staff. In 2001 he took the position of being the first PA Advisor to the Under Secretary of the VHA in Washington, DC, and was field-based in Milwaukee. (See below)  

(6) Notley "Kip" Maddox (1997) (1 year)
"Kip" held the office next. He was appointed President - elect in October 1996, when Denni Woodmansee left the VA temporarily for civilian employment. He then assumed the Presidency for the period of January to December of 1997.  Kip works in Richmond VAMC in the Spinal Cord Injury Service. He graduated from Kettering's PA program in 1975 and was assistant professor at Kettering College of Medical Arts as the PA program clinical coordinator for 8 years. Kip has contributed to the VHA PA's as principle author of the revised PA Qualification Standards currently in the concurrence process while on the PA Field Advisory Group and the Multi-disciplinary Practice Advisory Board.. While President of the VAPAA, he worked with the DEA in attempts to allow controlled substance prescribing despite state legislation under federal supremacy which is again being examined by Central Office. His son, Greg, was a student at Kettering's PA program (2002). Kip was a member of the VAPAA Board until July 2001 and is a very strong PA activist. He was on the VA's PA Field Advisory Group (1998-2004). He has since moved to Equador, SA to live out his retirement and work with his church among the native population.

The Later (Expansion & Refinement) Years

(7) Denni Woodmansee (1998 -mid 2000) (2 1/2 years)
Denni Woodmansee originally was elected president a year earlier, but left the VA in 1996 before taking office. He came back to the VA and was again elected to hold office for calendar 1998 & in 1999-2000 was reelected to an 18 month term, this due to the change to July-June terms of office. This change was necessary to let the VAPAA comply with AAPA regulations for constituent chapter terms of office. Denni was instrumental in his term of office in starting and maintaining this website for the first two years, and returned in 2001 to continue as webmaster. He did an excellent job and we thank him for his insight into such an innovative method of communication. Denni is always working on new projects for the VAPAA; the latest of these is trying to get an internet based meeting setup arranged for the VAPAA Board in order to save money on meetings and calls. Denni was the Manager of Occupational Health for the Boston Area Healthcare System. Denni was a member of the VAPAA Board, was the Audit & Finance Committee Chair (2000-01) and Webmaster (2001-2004). Denni resigned this to take on the Acting PA Advisor position when Joe Streff was called to active duty in Feb 2004. And continued as the fully appointed PA Advisor after that. In 2011, his position was elevated to Director of Physician Assistant Services in VHA, and he was able to fulfill our dream of having representation in VACO.  

(8) Z'Thomas Cannon (2000 - 2001) (1 year) 
"Z" Cannon recently took over as President for the 2000-2001 term of office. A 1982 graduate of the US Army Physician Assistant Program at Ft. Sam Houston, TX. Z' is married to Marsha and they are the parents of Kirk, Kathleen, Kolleen, Kristi, Charlie, Robbie and Mathew. Scouting and church activities have kept him closely involved in youth development and training. Education includes degrees from Central Michigan University and University of Nebraska. Z' enjoys outdoor activities, is a sub-novice kayaker and an avid white-water rafter. He also ran the VAPAA Store for three years (2001-2004). He was the Vice-President (2002-03). 
(9) Joseph O. Streff (2001) (40 days) 
Joseph was again elected President, assumed office on July 1, 2001, but resigned after 40 days in office when he took the position of the new Physician Assistant Advisor to the Undersecretary of the VHA. (To hold both offices concurrently would have been a conflict of interest for the VHA position.) He did this from September 10, 2001 until being called to active military duty in February 2004. He found out that changes were made in personnel in VACO and the climate was favorable for more changes for PAs in VACO. He resigned his position in July 2004 (despite being on active duty) to allow the VHA to carry on, unimpeded, positive changes to the position they otherwise couldn't have done until he returned from active duty (persuant to the Soldiers & Sailors Act requirements that his position be kept for him until released from duty). He is still a practicing PA as the OIC for the US Army's Community Based Health Care Organization in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and he also fills in as the Acting Medical Officer. In May 2005 he received the Federal Service PA of the Year 2005 Award from AAPA for his work in the VA for PAs in federal service. Upon release from Active Duty he returned to a local administrative/clinical role at the Milwaukee VAMC. He then took a position in Plastic Surgery and has been the Webmaster, Board of Directors and in 2008 Treasurer of VAPAA. In 2012 he was the Chair of the CME Conference in Orlando, FL held at Shades of Green Resort (military) on Walt Disney World.
(10) Ernest P. "Skip" Pendas (2001 - 2004) (3 years) Skip took over as President on Friday, August 15, 2001 after Joe resigned. He was on the Board as a Director at Large previously, and had run for the Vice-president position and won. When Joe stepped down, he assumed leadership of the VAPAA according to the rules of the Bylaws of the organization. Skip played a major role in the efforts to get PAs accepted by the legislature in the State of Mississippi during his tenure at the Biloxi VAMC. During his three consecutive terms as VAPAA President, he was instrumental in forging alliances with other federal PA societies as the President of the Federal Caucus. He also worked strongly for a change to a full time PA Advisor position that would be located in DC or close proximity, and also for a new utilization directive. Skip was President for three terms of office before having to resign for family reasons. Skip died of cancer on 28 April 2009. See the article on our Requiescat page.
(11) Delmer "Bud" Shelton (2004 - 05) (1 year)
Bud is the Director of Perioperative Services for the Department of Anesthesia at Durham VAMC and was elected President after being a Board member for several years and the Conference Coordinator for two years (2003-04). He is one of the early PAs, graduating from Duke University PA Program in 1974 (see Hall Of Fame Biography) and was a major influence in the North Carolina Academy before joining the Board of VAPAA. His major goals as president were to get new qualification and pay standards for PAs. He tried to increase membership in the Association and member participation as well as to provide high quality and affordable continuing education for PAs. Bud retired from the VA in 2006.

(12) John P. Fields (2005 - 2008) (3 years)
John was the Coordinator of the Spinal Cord Injury Program of the Audie Murphy VAMC in San Antonio, TX until 2008. He was an Air Force retired PA who decided to get a real job in the VA! He had worked as the conference chairperson in 2005 before taking office later that year. He again was conference chair in 2006 and was the chair in 2008, but delay of the conference until August and his resignation in June left Wm "Doug" McCoy to fill his post as conference chair at the last minute. John left to take a position in a PA training program in Montana.  

(13) Robert Kunath (2008 - July 25, 2011) (3 years)
 During Bob's tenure as President, a lot was accomplished, including the long desired full-time Director of PA Services.  After many years of lobbying on Capitol Hill by Tom Zampieri, Joe Streff, Bob, and others, the long awaited Central Office representation was achieved.  Bob has expressed that without the support and guidance of VAPAA leaders like Joe Streff, his time as president would not have been as successful and enjoyable.  Bob felt that it was time to step down as president and leave VAPAA in the capable hands of the newly appointed president, Jim Cavanaugh.  Bob plans to continue to support VAPAA and will work for and with the Association when asked.)

Bob Kunath (Clinical Coordinator of Geriatrics and Extended Care at the Lebanon, PA VAMC) was the Vice President for several years and took over as President when John Fields left the VA system suddenly. This occurred after the election, but shortly before the officers for the 2008-09 term were to be installed. He assumed the position per the direction of the Bylaws on the loss of a standing President of the organization. His first duty was to insure the annual conference and meeting was to be held and the next was to reorganize the Officers & Board. He re-established the VAPAA Store, offering fine shirts, jackets, pins, coins, & more to our members.  During Bob's tenure many trips were made to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress in support of the bill to create a full time, Central Office based physician assistant assigned to the VACO.  After a great deal of time and dedication the bill became a law and we now have a Director of PA Services located in the VA Central Office.  In May 2010 Bob was re-elected to a second term and after a successful conference in Asheville, North Carolina, Bob and his team are working on the 16th Annual Conference, once again to be in Asheville.  Additionally, Bob and his Legislative Committee along with AAPA are well under way with our next VACO and Congressional issue, Pay Disparity, Recruitment and Retention.  Efforts are underway to garner support for our position.  

(14)  James Cavanaugh  (July 25, 2011 - 2014) (3 years)
Jim served as a VAPAA Director-at-Large and has exhibited signiificant leadership capability as a Director as well as his role with the 2010 and 2011 Annual Conferences.  It was these traits that encouraged Bob's recommendation to the Board that they consider Jim's appointment to serve the remainder of Bob's term as president, until the election in May 2012. There is no doubt that Jim will continue to take VAPAA forward and increase the membership numbers as well as increase the national influence of the Association with Congress, the VA PAs, and AAPA.

(15) Rubina DaSilva (July 2014 - present)

Current President

PO Box 355
Newport, RI 02840

VAPAA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization. 

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