UCLA continues to act as a significant assister to veterans dealing with post-war issues.
On Wednesday, UCLA's Operation Mend, operating under the university's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, unveiled a new mental health program that will target physiological problems faced by distressed vets.
Ronald Reagan UCLA Memorial Center board member and philanthropist Ronald A. Katz developed Operation Mend after he saw a CNN story about U.S. Marine Aaron Mankin's devastating injuries.
The operation, addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has existed since 2007 and given medical, surgical and mental care to post-9/11 veterans and families.
PTSD can surface in anyone who has experienced a disturbing occurrence. Many U.S. soldiers develop this condition due to circumstances of combat and have trouble integrating back into familial life.
"We would be paying attention to all the family issues that were happening from a physiological health perspective and be able to sit and talk with them about that," said Dr. Jo Sornborger, Operation Mend's director of psychological health programs.
According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly a third of Vietnam veterans and 10 percent of Gulf War veterans cope with PTSD.
For many former soldiers like John Roberts, it has been difficult to battle personal suffering until now.
"I think this is just an incredible day," he said. "What you don't see is the PTSD issues I had. For years I struggled, and there weren't programs like this available."
The new extension of Operation Mend will be a six-week program designed for patients that necessitate more continuous care. All travel accommodations and care costs are free to participants.
In January, four patients took part in the program and reported positive outcomes. In May, treatment will be available to another group of patients—between six and 10 people.
Several important components of the plan are healing arts, as well as wellness and community engagement. Veterans will meditate, in addition to using acupuncture and qi gong, an ancient Chinese custom centered on movement and steady breathing.
Patients and their families will spend three weeks conducting cognitive training at UCLA, notably one-on-one therapy for trauma effecting concentration and memory.
"Many of our patients suffering from physical injures also are suffering from what we call invisible wounds, so it's important for us to look at the whole," Operation Mend director Melanie Gideon said, referring to the program's emphasis on mental well-being.
Three weeks after the cognitive training, patients will participate in treatment over the phone for another three weeks.
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This initiative has been backed by the Wounded Warriors Project and Warrior Care network, including programs at Emory Health Care in Atlanta, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Partners of the network intend to amass $100 million over three years in order to fund efforts at UCLA.
"We're honored to serve our veterans, it's really our privilege," Gideon said. "It takes a whole community, our whole country to provide all we can from the veterans who serve."
Contact reporter Duncan Day here.