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Pride and Partnership

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By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Mar 14, 2018 2:45 PM


UCLA’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs enables us to serve those who have served our nation and to instill in our students a lifelong sense of service to others.


Photo by Ted Catanzaro

As much as it has become our habit in society to thank veterans for their service, it is even more important, a UCLA student veteran recently said, to actively engage in meaningful conversations with them about their experiences.

Dedicating ourselves to seeking out ways to help is part of our mission here at UCLA. As one of the world’s top public research universities, we have a responsibility not just to our students, but to our communities as well, and to those within them who have served our nation.

For more than 70 years, UCLA has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans — first by providing medical care at the VA hospital just across the freeway from our campus, and more recently through programs like UCLA Operation Mend, which provides comprehensive mental health support and reconstructive surgery to active and retired U.S. military personnel who have been injured or disfigured in combat.

It’s a pairing that makes so much sense — a large federal agency working to help people who need the expertise UCLA can offer, in everything from psychology to legal services. The partnership also gives us numerous opportunities to instill in our students a sense of service that we hope will help shape their future careers.

We’re proud of this work, but there is still more that UCLA can contribute. In recent years, our campus has been working closely with the VA to identify additional areas where we can be helpful.

As a result of our deepening relationship, UCLA late last year unveiled some important new resources for veterans on the West Los Angeles VA campus. At an event with VA leaders, we dedicated new centers that UCLA now operates as part of our 10-year, $16.5-million commitment to the federal agency.

The first is a family wellness center, which is focused on veterans’ relationships with their partners, children and other family members. Here, seven UCLA staff, along with postdoctoral fellows, are giving veterans’ families skills to help them address problems before those problems get out of control. Their work is based on a model developed by Patricia Lester, the Jane and Marc Nathanson Family Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Another of our centers is a legal clinic where UCLA law students, guided by faculty, help veterans apply for and receive health and education benefits, as well as provide assistance with addressing outstanding citations for minor offenses like jaywalking, which can become barriers to employment and housing.

A third center, which will address problems associated with homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues, is expected to open soon.

The effort to strengthen our relationship with the VA and enhance the services we provide to our veterans has been possible because of so many dedicated people from across our campus, and in particular Jon Varat, dean emeritus of the UCLA School of Law, who has led the initiative.

We are continuing our discussions with VA leadership in the hope that the programs we create will become models for partnerships between other universities and Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide — partnerships that enable us to provide much-needed and richly deserved assistance for our veterans.

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