In 2006, Army Sgt. Richard Yarosh was serving as a gunner on an armored vehicle in Iraq when a roadside bomb hit he vehicle and engulfed it and its crew in flames.
Yarosh jumped from the vehicle, his face and body on fire.
Sixty percent of his body was burned, and he lost both ears, part
of his nose, some fingers and the use of both hands. One leg had
to be amputated below the knee.
Yarosh is one of about 50,000 service members wounded in
action in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003. But unlike some of
his comrades, he has received extensive, ongoing help for his
problems, thanks to a comprehensive integrated-care program
at the University of California, Los Angeles. Called Operation
Mend, the program aims to heal not only the physical wounds
of war, but psychological and familial ones as well.
The program was launched in 2007 by UCLA philanthropist
Ronald A. Katz and his late wife, Maddie Katz, after they saw a
wounded service member on a late-night talk show. It began
with UCLA’s top plastic surgeons volunteering to help repair
and re-create the faces of the wounded, but it soon became
apparent that less obvious issues needed to be addressed as
well. These included service members’ post-traumatic stress
and traumatic brain injury symptoms, as well as their families’
psychological needs, says psychologist Jo Sornborger, PsyD, who
directs Operation Mend’s psychological health program.
“We were seeing this incredible caregiver burden that the
family members were experiencing,” says Sornborger. “The
family dynamics — especially with a family member who has
had a catastrophic injury that is now a chronic injury — can
become pretty entrenched.” A common scenario is a woman
earning most of the family income, caring for a disabled and
depressed spouse, doing most of the household duties and child
care, and feeling traumatized herself.
Operation Mend’s psychological health care component
includes prevention, intervention and treatment services for
patients and their families. A team led by psychiatrist Patricia
Lester, MD, of UCLA’s Nathanson Family Resilience Center,
worked with Sornborger to adapt a successful family resilience
program, FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress, see
December 2013 Monitor), for Operation Mend patients and
mend Psychological healing is central to care at a UCLA
program for veterans and
BY TORI DEANGELIS