UCLA's veteran care program gets a boost

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UCLA Health’s veteran care program got a boost Thursday, thanks in part to a $38,000 winning bid on a customized Chevrolet Camaro

Operation Mend has been providing specialty care from facial reconstruction to mental health support for veterans free of charge since 2007. According to Melanie Gideon of Operation Mend, the program has welcomed more than 2,000 appointments and carried out almost 400 procedures, treating 137 patients and 279 of their family members. There is no waiting list for eligible service members. 

“We rely on gifts, small and large, from all over the country to help provide that care,” said Gideon. 

LINE-X — a spray-on coating franchise that caters to the U.S. military, among others — placed the customized Camaro up for bid in November to benefit Operation Mend, a collaboration between UCLA Health, the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The company’s executives pitched in another $18,000, and presented a $50,000 check to the program at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Thursday afternoon.

Present at Thursday's ceremony was Marine Staff Sgt. Octavio Sanchez of Fontana, one of Operation Mend’s first patients. He suffered third-degree burns over 70 percent of his face and body while on duty in Iraq in 2005. He underwent several surgeries, including nose reconstruction.


“He cold-called our chief of plastic surgery at the time back in 2007 to see if he could be a candidate,” said Gideon. “He was fine with the way he looked. He's such a strong person. But after seeing how his kids were being treated because of the way he looked, he really wanted to come here for his kids.”

The group hopes to help more service members like Sanchez. Later this month, Operation Mend will expand its services with an intensive treatment program for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Our arms are open to anyone we can provide care for,” said Gideon.

With contributions from Kristina Bravo

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