The Operation Mend-FOCUS model includes physical and
mental health screenings, psychoeducation and immediate
feedback, among other elements, says Lester. It also makes
mental health professionals an integral part of the team.
“Embedding psychological health approaches into medical and
surgical care settings helps to destigmatize and improve access
to psychological health care for both veterans and their family
members,” Lester says.
For the psychology team, part of that care means providing
wraparound services for patients and their families. Families
are greeted at their airport gate and taken straight to a hotel,
half a block from the Operation Mend offices. The team takes
care of all appointment details, including escorting patients and
families to and from their sessions.
Meanwhile, some 350 volunteers — including local families,
UCLA students and high school students — serve as buddies.
They cook, shop for families, take kids to Disneyland, babysit
— whatever is needed while the service member is in surgery or
So far, the program has treated 98 service members for facial,
hand and orthopedic surgery.
Patients return to UCLA as often as needed for surgery or
follow-up appointments and are members of the program for
life. Surgeries can number a few, or as many as 40, although one
service member has gone through more than 100 procedures.
Each time patients and their families come to UCLA, they meet
with Sornborger, who also keeps in regular touch with them
through a telehealth component. To ensure there is continuity
of care, she links families to medical, psychological and practical
services in their communities and is available to field any
problems that may arise.
Because of the intense nature of these families’ difficulties
and the practical, no-nonsense culture of the military,
Sornborger favors good psychological strategies that are
embedded in a direct, strengths-based approach.
“In a heartbeat, their lives changed profoundly as a family,”
she says. “They survived against all odds.” Reminding them
that the team is with them for the long haul, and that they have
positive coping strategies of their own, can help, she says.
“My job is to help them maximize their strengths and
supports during what is often a lengthy and painful
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N. Y.
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