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UCLA's Operation Mend receives $15.7M grant to expand services to wounded veterans

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz, who suffered burns over 85 percent of his body by a roadside bomb in 2007, right, talks about his new prosthetic hands after a ceremony at al-Faw palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. He later received reconstructive surgery through Operation Mend.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz, who suffered burns over 85 percent of his body by a roadside bomb in 2007, right, talks about his new prosthetic hands after a ceremony at al-Faw palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. He later received reconstructive surgery through Operation Mend.
Maya Alleruzzo/AP

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Operation Mend — a partnership of UCLA Health, the U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs aimed at helping wounded veterans — received a $15.7 million grant from the Wounded Warrior Project to expand services for injured military personnel and veterans, the university announced Tuesday:

Wounded Warrior Project has approved a $15.7 million grant over three years for UCLA Health to expand its Operation Mend program. The grant will fund a new, intensive structured treatment program for service members suffering from mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The grant will allow Operation Mend to join a nationwide coalition of civilian hospitals and academic centers dedicated to treating those suffering from what Operation Mend’s director Melanie Gideon calls the wars’ signature injuries.

Although not a military facility, UCLA has been treating wounded troops since 2007.

Early that year, inventor Ron Katz and his wife Maddie were watching a television program about the U.S. military’s only burn center. And they were moved at the sight of one of its patients.

The Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, was treating a young Marine who’d been  badly burned during fighting in Iraq. Parts of his face had essentially melted away.

While the military offered the best care it could at Brooke, it couldn’t always offer the kind of cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries necessary to give people back the features they’d lost in combat.

Ron and Maddie wanted to help.

As philanthropists and as board members at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Katzes proposed building a program at UCLA’s medical center to take care of these wounded troops free of charge.

And the Katzes donated the first $1 million to get things started.

By October of that year, Operation Mend had its first patient: that same Marine the Katzes had seen on television.

“We started with facial reconstruction for burn injuries,” she said. But doctors quickly realized that many of their patients had lost parts of their hands to burns or had suffered other orthopedic injuries as well. So Operation Mend expanded its services to treat these injuries as well.

As the scope of services grew, Gideon noted “Some of these patients have had more than 40 surgeries and made 50 visits.”

Transportation and hotel costs are all paid for by UCLA, and patients can stay on-campus along with their families for free.

Melanie Gideon says UCLA is committed to offering their services to anyone from the active duty, retired military, or veteran community who needs their services.

“We don’t say no if they are eligible. We want to help.”