Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Veteran Thomas Bender, who served during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Thomas Bender was born in 1939 in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a rural town and graduated from college in 1961. Bender worked as a middle school science teacher for three years, but went on to continue with his education, graduating with a doctor of medicine from Drexel University in 1967.
After graduating from medical school, Bender learned that the U.S. Public Health Service was looking to add members to the Commissioned Corps and send doctors to Alaska. Bender realized that the Commissioned Corps would be where his skills would fit best.
Bender’s service with the Public Health Service started in 1969. He served with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and went to Atlanta for an intensive training course in epidemiology. After training, Bender went to the Arctic Health Research Center in Alaska, later becoming the acting director of this center. While there, he worked with a team identifying the main causes of morbidity and mortality for Alaska’s Native people.
Bender was in Alaska for four years before going to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to earn a master of public health in 1974 and completing a general preventive medicine residency. He then went back to Alaska and began working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on behalf of the CDC. With the WHO, Bender went to the South Pacific to lead epidemiology training courses for allied health personnel. This turned into a full-time position, and Bender went to the University of Hawaii as an affiliate professor from the CDC.
After finishing his work in Hawaii, Bender spent two years in Virginia with the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Office of Health. Bender then became the director of the division of safety research for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Bender retired from this job in 1993 after 25 years of service.
During his Public Health Service career, Bender traveled around the world. He often worked closely with the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, taking care of outbreaks and conducting research as a medical and epidemiological investigator. He was also part of the Public Health Service team that responded to the Exxon Valdez oil spill as well as many other Public Health Service research projects focused on looking into malaria and setting up clinics.
Bender enjoyed his time with the Public Health Service and extended his time beyond his draft requirement. He received many awards, a notable one being a special medal for achievement by authority of the Crown Princess Sirindhorn of the Royal Family of Thailand in 1991.
Bender now lives in South Carolina.
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Writer: Kimberly Kassis
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