Newswise — UCLA Health’s Operation Mend will celebrate 15 years of serving our nation’s post 9/11-era wounded warriors and their families by walking with patients, their family members, physicians, staff, and supporters in the 2022 New York City Veterans Day Parade. They will be joining an estimated 25,000 marchers who gather to honor veterans, raise awareness of those who serve them, and to salute members of our currently serving military. Operation Mend has been walking in the parade since 2011, the year their founder, Ronald Katz, was named special grand marshal.

Founded in 2007, UCLA Health Operation Mend heals our nation’s post 9/11 military, veterans and family members by providing advanced surgical and medical treatment, comprehensive psychological evaluation and support and intensive treatment programs for symptoms related to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The program is available at absolutely no cost to veterans or service members and is available to eligible warriors injured during military operations or training. Operation Mend is the only program in the nation that includes caregivers as full participants alongside their warriors in an intensive treatment program.

Among those representing Operation Mend:

Brandon Bailey, Boone County, Kentucky Gunnery Sergeant Charles “Brandon” Bailey (Ret) joined the United States Marine Corps on 10 November 1998. In 2006, he was recruited into the Marine Special Operations Command, assigned to the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion. In January 2009, after having served in combat, peace keeping, rescue and humanitarian missions all over the globe, GySgt Bailey was critically wounded during a combat mission in Farah Province, Afghanistan when the HMMWV he was traveling in was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which left him crushed beneath the truck. He survived injuries including a crushed right hip, fractures to his left hip, multiple fractures to his lower lumbar, and pieces of his shattered pelvis embedded inside his right thigh and groin area. GySgt also sustained multiple wounds to his abdomen, exposing his internal organs to the dirt and debris. In addition, GySgt Bailey sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

In 2012, after 22 surgeries and 3 years of physical therapy, GySgt Bailey was moved to the Temporary Disabled Retirement List, and was medically retired from active-duty service. For six years following his retirement, GySgt Bailey sought the expertise of highly ranked surgeons across country hoping they could address the severe pain he continued to experience from his hip injuries, but all said nothing could be done. Finally, he found Operation Mend, and a team of experts that knew exactly what to do. After extensive surgery and physical therapy, GySgt Bailey can walk without pain and with complete stability. He feels he is stronger and has more mobility than he had before the incident in 2009, and, most importantly, he is once again able to enjoy life with his wife and family.

GySgt Bailey lives in Boone County, Kentucky with his wife, daughter, stepdaughter, stepson, two Labrador retrievers and two cats.

Michael Bitner & Erin Bitner, Valencia, California

Marine Corps Veteran Michael Bitner first came to UCLA Health Operation Mend in 2014 for facial paralysis. In 2012, while serving in Afghanistan, Michael survived an improvised explosive device attack on his vehicle. The explosion precipitated bleeding in the cerebellum, which caused cranial nerve damage, paralysis to the right side of his face and deafness in the right ear. The explosion also caused injuries to his spine, left arm and right knee from which he experiences chronic pain.

He continues to work with Operation Mend to eliminate some of the chronic pain and treat other injuries.

In 2020, Michael completed his bachelor’s degree at Cal State University Long Beach and is currently teaching high school Physical Education. He and his wife, Erin, married in 2020 and live in Valencia, California with their dogs Chloe and Brandy.

Leonard “Lenny” Cataudella, Monroe, Connecticut

Navy Veteran Leonard “Lenny” Cataudella served as a Navy Reservist from 1997-2017. After his final deployment to Afghanistan as a drone pilot, he returned to the States, reeling from having been at war. Hypervigilant, unsure of what to do, he spent a year sitting next to his unpacked boxes, feeling nothing. Despite efforts to heal, Lenny needed something more intensive, which is when he reached out to Operation Mend.

Lenny currently lives in Monroe, Connecticut, and credits Operation Mend with helping him find his passion again and giving him his life back. He enjoys practicing acoustic guitar and traveling and is looking forward to moving to Arizona soon to enjoy his retirement!

Thomas & Roseann Kent, Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania

SGT Thomas Kent and his wife Roseann were welcomed into the Operation Mend family in 2019. Roseann heard about the program from another caregiver who had participated in the Intensive Treatment Program and felt Roseann and her warrior would greatly benefit from the resources Operation Mend provides.

Kent served with the US Army Reserves as a Military Police officer from 2006-2009, and then entered the US Army on Active Duty from 2009-2015, serving combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While on a routine combat mission, Kent was injured, tearing several ligaments in both ankles. Due to lack of medical equipment and inadequate care, the ligaments healed improperly, and after retirement, the VA, after multiple evaluations, said there were no surgical options available to stabilize his ankles and reduce his ongoing pain. In addition, Kent’s exposure to intense combat as an Artilleryman in Afghanistan left him suffering from PTSD and extreme anxiety.

With the support of his wife, Roseann, Thomas was able to seek care at Operation Mend for both his physical and psychological wounds. Kent and Roseann were particularly drawn to Operation Mend’s Intensive Treatment Program for PTSD because it’s the only program in the nation that includes caregivers as 100% participants in the healing process, and they continue to utilize the techniques they learned in the program in their everyday lives. For Thomas’ ankles, Operation Mend’s surgical team, through multiple surgeries, were able to arthroscopically reconstruct his ankle ligaments, reducing his pain and giving him back the stability he needed.

The Kents are currently living in Thomas’ hometown of Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania with four of their children.

Aaron Mankin, Rogers, Arkansas

Corporal Aaron P. Mankin is a Marine Corps Veteran. He became Operation Mend’s very first patient in August 2007 when Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas sent him to participate in what was a newly established program at UCLA Health for severely injured military service members seeking advanced surgical reconstruction.

On May 11th, 2005, while serving in Iraq, 23-year-old Mankin survived an improvised explosive device attack that took the lives of six of his fellow Marines and wounded a dozen others. In addition to the damage sustained to his throat and lungs from smoke inhalation, Cpl. Mankin suffered intense burns over 25 percent of his body. His ears, nose and mouth were essentially gone, and he gave two fingers on his right hand. Over the course of 5 years, Operation Mend reconstructed Aaron’s face, repaired his airway and improved the functions of his hands.

After a decade of healing, he returned to Operation Mend in the summer of 2022 to participate in Operation Mend’s Intensive Treatment Program to address his PTSD.

Aaron currently lives in his hometown of Rogers, Arkansas with his two awesome teenagers.

Anthony and Jocelyn Mitchell, Pineville, Louisiana

Anthony Mitchell is a United States Army Infantry and Special Operations Soldier SFC (Retired) Disabled.

In August 2008, during Combat Patrol Operations in Gardez, Afghanistan, Anthony’s convoy was engaged by enemy combatants in an exchange of fire when his vehicle made contact with an IED. The driver of Mitchell’s vehicle panicked, stepped on gas, and hit a second IED, a 55-gallon drum packed with homemade explosives buried in the road. Anthony’s recovery has required multiple surgeries and treatments including for spinal cord injury/TBI, bilateral knee replacements, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and other neurological issues impacting the bilateral use of his hands and feet and vision loss.

Jocelyn Mitchell, Anthony’s spouse, has over 20+ years of experience as an Army spouse, mother, and caregiver. Through Anthony’s multiple deployments, Jocelyn stood by her Soldier, and after their family’s lives were turned upside down in 2008, she immediately became Anthony’s caregiver, juggling her full-time job while attending to Anthony’s daily needs. As Anthony’s condition worsened, Jocelyn stayed up late nights trying to find a program that could help Anthony with his physical and psychological issues. That’s when she found Operation Mend.

At Operation Mend, the Mitchells felt they received the highest level of care possible for veterans, service members and their families, and were so grateful that the Operation Mend provides caregivers with the opportunity to fully participate with their veterans in care. Anthony has undergone multiple surgeries with Operation Mend to improve his physical condition, and together, Anthony and Jocelyn participated in Operation Mend’s intensive treatment program for PTSD.

Anthony and Jocelyn Mitchell currently live in Pineville, Louisiana.

Joseph Paulk, Fallbrook, California

On July 5, 2007, while serving in Afghanistan, Army Specialist Joey Paulk survived an assault on his tactical vehicle when it was hit by 3 anti-tank mines, flipping it over and igniting the fuel tank. Tragically, his team leader lost his life during the attack, and Joey was left devastatingly injured. He suffered 40% burns to his body and face, smoke inhalation injuries, paralysis of his vocal cords and complete amputation of all 10 fingers. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, swallow, and cope without the use of his hands.

Joey currently lives in Fallbrook, California with his beloved dog, Leroy. He is an active spokesman for wounded warriors in Southern California and around the nation. Joey is an excellent snowboarder, league bowler and soccer player. He’s also an avid baseball fan. Go Padres!

Adrian Purchas & Joanna Purchas, Kansas City, Missouri

Senior Airman Adrian Purchas is an Air Force Veteran. Adrian received an honorable discharge in 2009 after serving two tours to the Middle East in active combat zones as military police. Before her deployments, Adrian suffered a head trauma in a rollover vehicle accident while on duty in a remote location and was unconscious for over 30 minutes. The Air Force did not provide any treatment at the time, leaving the traumatic brain injury undiagnosed for 13 years.

In 2017, Adrian met Joanna, and the two married the following year. In 2018, 13 years after she suffered her initial injuries, Adrian received diagnoses of TBI, PTSD and epilepsy, at which time Joanna became Adrian’s official caregiver. The two came together to UCLA Health Operation Mend to participate in the Veteran and Caregiver Intensive Treatment Program in early 2019.

During the Summer of 2022, Adrian returned to Operation Mend to participate in the Veteran only Intensive Treatment Program for PTSD to further address her trauma.

Adrian and Joanna credit Operation Mend with not only saving their marriage, but Adrian credits Operation Mend with saving her life.

Since the completion of the caregiver-veteran program, Joanna has become an artist, working with various media, including pyrography. Adrian has taken up writing, having just launched her newsletter dedicated to PTSD and mental health education and information. Adrian and Joanna currently live in Kansas City, Missouri with their two boys.

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