Operation Mend Buddy Program


Operation Mend is a groundbreaking program at UCLA that provides severely physically and psychologically injured U.S. military personnel and veterans with access to some of the very best care our nation has to offer. Operation Mend has been, since its inception in 2007, a family-centered program. We believe that our injured service members and veterans need their families with them to heal, and that their families need help healing too. When these men and women travel from all over the country to receive care at UCLA, we welcome their caregivers, and we wrap an extra layer of love and support around them through our Buddy Programs. Prior to the pandemic, we often had whole families coming in, so we welcomed the participation of entire families in our buddy program, but this year, we only have room for whole families to participate in the buddy program during our Family Cohort in July.

The Operation Mend Buddy Program was established with the arrival of the very first Operation Mend patient in September 2007. At that time, the Commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, UCLA’s first partner in this endeavor, expressed concern about how Operation Mend would take care of wounded service members non-medical needs in a civilian environment in a city as big as Los Angeles. In that moment, we made a promise to not only pick these warriors and their families up from LAX, provide accommodations at UCLA Health’s hotel in Westwood and escort the warriors to all appointments, but that we would truly wrap our arms around these families and provide each one with a genuinely loving, caring local family to socially support them during their stay and beyond.

As Operation Mend’s founding family, Dana and Todd Katz and their children raised their hands to be the very first buddy family to Marine Cpl Aaron Mankin (Ret), and from there, Dana took on the responsibility of building the buddy program into a hands-on opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those who have suffered great injury through service to our country.  It is a learning opportunity for people of all ages, bringing the reality of war closer to home. Our Buddies always thank us for giving them the opportunity to participate in our program.

The Operation Mend Buddy Program

The Operation Mend Buddy Program is designed to fulfill our warriors’ non-medical needs. By carefully matching our warriors and their caregivers with loving, caring individuals or couples that live or work in close proximity to UCLA (our Operation Mend Buddies), we give them the opportunity to engage in activities beyond UCLA’s clinic and hotel walls. Our buddies provide Operation Mend warriors and caregivers with opportunities for some sightseeing and meals out, drop off meals after surgery or after particularly difficult days in the intensive treatment program, or just give them a distraction from the hard work of healing, and in the case of caregivers, some much needed respite. Most importantly, buddies give their friendship. The time spent together often leads to life-long bonds.

The buddy program’s impact extends even deeper because it gives the warriors a safe space to learn to re-engage and build their own community of support to fight off the social isolation that is so prevalent for service members and veterans struggling with the physical and psychological wounds of war.

The time commitment varies depending on whether a warrior is at Operation Mend for physical or psychological injuries. In general, when a warrior is at UCLA for the two-week intensive treatment program for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury, we hope for a combination of virtual support, two in-person get-togethers and sending or dropping off one meal over during the week. For a physical injury patient, depending on the stay and the procedure/recovery, we hope for touching by virtually (text, FaceTime, calls), an in-person once per week, and sending or dropping off a meal once a week.

Note: The Pandemic has caused us to pause some of our volunteer opportunities, like our Lunch Buddy and Office Buddy programs. Stay tuned. We hope these opportunities become available again soon!

Volunteer Process

Once a volunteer expresses interest, a Zoom interview will be scheduled so we can explain the buddy program and ask LOTS of questions! We love to learn as much as we can about our volunteers to ensure make a great match between our buddies, warriors, and caregivers. (Our warriors and caregivers are asked a lot of the same questions.) Buddy volunteers are then required to complete an online HIPAA training which must be repeated annually. When we identify a great match, we’ll get in touch and take it from there!

To learn more about becoming an Operation Mend Buddy, contact Clare Suomi, [email protected] and Dana Katz, [email protected].