Operation Mend receives customized shuttle bus from Penske Motor Group to help veterans on road to recovery

Operation Mend van
From left: Darius Johnson, Operation Mend patient and retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, Pablo Rivas, and Teri Scroggins, Operation Mend patient and retired major in the U.S. Marines.

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Jane Murcia
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Veterans who are receiving treatment through UCLA Health's Operation Mend will get some help navigating Los Angeles traffic on their way to and from appointments thanks to a new specially modified shuttle bus designed to accommodate the physical needs of patients, including a wheel chair lift and spacious seating.

The brand-new Ford F450 Challenger, given to Operation Mend by the Penske Motor Group, Longo Toyota and Longo Lexus, is wrapped with photos of veterans who have been treated at Operation Mend for injuries suffered while serving in the post 9/11 era.

"Our veterans deserve the best care and attention," said Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System. "We are thankful that our Operation Mend program and wounded warriors are so thoughtfully supported by community leaders such as Penske Motor Group."

Founded in 2007, UCLA Health Operation Mend brings hope to those who have struggled with physical wounds as well as an intensive treatment program for PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury to veterans injured during combat operations or while training for service. Operation Mend is the only program in the nation that treats caregivers alongside their veterans as full participants in its intensive treatment program.

Several people who have benefitted from Operation Mend were on hand at the dedication ceremony held Feb. 26 outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

"Operation Mend has gone above and beyond to make sure no detail is missed," said Darius Johnson, Operation Mend patient and retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. "This new bus helps further their mission to help injured veterans like me get back on their feet and not worry about the little things like transportation."

The bus is powered by compressed natural gas which produces approximately 30% less greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable gasoline powered vehicle.

Among the images featured on the side of the shuttle bus, is the larger-than-life smile of retired Marine Staff Sgt. Octavio Sanchez. Smiling is something Sanchez believed he would never do again after his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, causing him to suffer third-degree burns over 70% of his face and body. Sanchez's face was rebuilt through UCLA Health Operation Mend at no cost.

"It is our privilege to support the community in this meaningful way," said Greg Penske, chairman and CEO of Penske Motor Group. "As we considered Operation Mend's mission to provide comprehensive services to our veterans, we felt the best way we could support this as a transportation services company was to ensure our wounded warriors have a safe, accessible vehicle that gets to and from their scheduled care during their time in Los Angeles. We are grateful for their service to our country that gives us the freedoms we enjoy every day."