Operation Mend Buddy Program


Operation Mend is a groundbreaking program at UCLA Health 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. Since its inception in 2007, Operation Mend has been 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. That’s why family members are included in care, and why, when they arrive from all over the country to receive care at UCLA Health, we welcome them by wrapping an extra layer of love and support through our Buddy Program.

UCLA Health Operation Mend Buddy Program helps warriors and families feel welcomed during their treatment program in Los Angeles
First Operation Mend patient Marine Cpl Aaron Mankin (Ret) and the Katz Family, the first Operation Mend Buddy Family

The Operation Mend Buddy Program was established with the arrival of the very first Operation Mend patient in September 2007 from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. At that time, the Commander of Brooke Army Medical Center expressed concern about Operation Mend’s ability to take care of wounded service members’ non-medical needs in a civilian environment, especially in a city as large as Los Angeles. In that moment, we promised the Commander that in addition to picking the warriors and their families up from LAX, providing accommodations at UCLA Health’s hotel in Westwood and escorting them to all appointments, 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 with their four children decided to become the very first buddy family to Marine Cpl Aaron Mankin (Ret). From there, Dana built the Buddy Program into one of the most wonderful, hands-on opportunities for volunteers 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 are always thankful for participating in our program.

Program Overview

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 near UCLA Health (our Operation Mend Buddies), they have the opportunity to engage in activities beyond UCLA Health’s clinic and hotel walls. Our buddies provide Operation Mend warriors and caregivers with the chance 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.

UCLA Health Operation Mend patient with her Buddy
Operation Mend patient with her Buddy

The buddy program’s impact can extend even deeper because it provides the warriors with 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 for buddies varies depending on whether a warrior is at Operation Mend for physical or psychological injuries. In general, when a warrior is at UCLA Health for the two-week intensive treatment program for Post-traumatic stress disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury, we ask buddies to plan for a combination of virtual support (texts/FaceTimes/calls to check in), two in-person get-togethers, and sending or dropping off one meal during the first week. For a physical injury patient, depending on the stay and the procedure/recovery, we hope for regularly touching base virtually (text, FaceTime, calls), an in-person visit once per week, and sending or dropping off a meal once a week.

Becoming a Buddy Program Volunteer

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 we make the best matches possible between our buddies, warriors, and caregivers. (Our warriors and caregivers are asked a lot of the same questions we ask our buddy volunteers.) 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].