2022 Paul G. Hearne Awardees: Nate Tilton and Chun Yu (Chris) Wan
Nate Tilton and Chun Yu (Chris) Wan, Veteran’s Independent Research Organization (VIRO)
Nate Tilton (he/him) and Chun Yu (Chris) Wan (he/him) are researchers with and cofounders of the Veteran’s Independent Research Organization (VIRO). In 2020, Nate felt frustrated after experiencing medical gaslighting at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He reached out to Chris and Mike Flores, two fellow disabled veterans . Together, they founded VIRO for disabled veterans as an alternative to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) research. VIRO conducts advocacy and community outreach to support veteran communities in both accessing and experiencing equitable treatment from the VA. VIRO’s work specifically aims to relieve the weight of substantial and chronic staffing issues and under-resourcing on the Guam VA medical system for disabled Guamanian veterans.
Nate Tilton, a neurodivergent, chair user, service dog handler, disabled parent, anthropologist, and veteran from Bay Point, California, is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also works and studies in the Berkeley Disability Lab. Nate currently studies intersections of institutions, disability, community, care, colonization, and veteran health. Through Nate’s research, he aims to understand how eugenics serves as a framework for ableist institutional policies and structures, as well as a series aims to understand the ways in which Pacific Islander veterans from U.S. territories like Guam experience exclusion from veterans’ benefits such as medical care. His advocacy has ranged from serving on both University task forces and the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, to advocating before his Board of Regents and The United States Congress. Nate was initially a high school dropout, who worked his way through college and advancing advocacy experiences in both higher education and with the federal government.
Chris Wan, a third-year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine, was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with his family in 2000. He developed an interest in immigrant health during his early interactions with the U.S. healthcare system as someone who had limited English proficiency. When seeking care for his family members, there were often miscommunications between Chris’s family and the care team due to the language barrier. These negative encounters led his family to perceive that they would not receive adequate care, and withdrew from seeking the care they needed. In 2006, Chris enlisted in the California Army National Guard as a Healthcare Specialist, more commonly known as a Medic. Then, during his time earning his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Chris worked as a Student Veteran Peer Advisor, and quickly noticed the burdens accrued by veterans seeking to apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. His experiences as an Iraq Campaign veteran and a Student Veteran Peer Advisor, as well as personally witnessing multiple unjust instances of barriers to healthcare access, ultimately resulted in his interest in providing and improving veteran health and access (specifically and vitally, culturally competent veteran health).
With funding from the 2022 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, both Chris and Nate will be able to fund initiatives they are working on at VIRO.
VIRO will start a scholarship and mentorship program to assist talented Guamanians on their journey of becoming physicians by providing scholarship funds and mentorship throughout the entire application process from undergraduate level, including preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). By reducing barriers of entry to medical school for underrepresented students, this program can help relieve the chronic lack of physicians in Guam while also serving disabled veteran population when they first return from service, as well as the greater community of disabled people living in Guam.
The 2022 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award will also support VIRO in providing technological support for hybrid community care sessions ,and a Go-Pro exchange network to disabled veterans in and around Guam who are isolated by geography and infrastructure to foster communities of care. VIRO’s work has created networks on Guam and the outlying islands for first generation, low income Guamanians who plan to return to Guam after completing their education. By encouraging young Guamanians to become medical professionals and researchers who will practice medicine and conduct research on Guam, VIRO can address the root causes of lack of healthcare access for disabled veterans in Guam.