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UCLA

Healing Warriors

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By Dan Gordon '85

Published Jul 1, 2014 8:00 AM


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March hugs Jo Sornborger, director of Operation Mend’s FOCUS Psychological Health Program, while his mother looks on. Photo by Eric Mencher.

A 70-Year Commitment

UCLA’s dedication to veterans’ concerns can be traced to the end of World War II. Under the federally funded GI bill, vets flocked to the campus, which dedicated housing and services to help them with their transition from military to college life. Today, the Bruin Resource Center’s Veterans Resource Office provides one-on-one support to student veterans as they make that transition. A partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs continues to thrive after nearly 70 years, supporting research, teaching and patient care in the VA medical system.

In January 2013, Chancellor Gene Block launched the UCLA Veterans Initiative to build on- and off-campus awareness of UCLA programs, research projects and services that benefit veterans. At the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program provides free training in small-business management for disabled post-9/11 veterans. UCLA is one of seven sites offering the boot camp, funded through private donations. “There was an instant connection through our shared military experience,” says Daniel Suklja, a disabled Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war who says that beyond teaching basics like how to create a business plan, the program gave him a network that continues to help him. Suklja has opened two Postal Annex franchises in Menifee, Calif., and recently purchased a dry-cleaning business.

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UCLA surgeons Reza Jarrahy (with beard) and Christopher Crisera greet their patient before his exam. Photo by Eric Mencher.

The Ronald A. Katz Center for Collaborative Military Medicine aims to serve as a nexus for UCLA’s many health-related research projects and services, fostering collaborations both within the university and between UCLA and the military on behalf of wounded veterans. In its first year, the center has paved the way for a collaborative project between UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that, among other things, will give military personnel access to Jonsson Center clinical trials. The Katz center is also working with the Army to establish specialized EEG monitoring at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for service personnel pulled from the battlefield because of traumatic brain injury. With consultation from UCLA neurologists, a new device will help to detect low-level seizures so that appropriate medication can be administered.

Chiarelli was in his first week as vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army when he learned about Katz and the life-changing work of Operation Mend, and he has worked closely with UCLA ever since. “Military medicine can’t solve these problems alone,” he says. “Through partnerships with great institutions like UCLA, we can learn from each other and be much more successful.”

Paulk not only pronounces his name again, but he now also speaks publicly on behalf of other wounded warriors. “A lot of us are stubborn — that’s kind of how we’re trained,” he says. “There are a lot more people like me who can use some help. My message is that it’s not a weakness to accept it.”

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