UCLA’s ties to veterans and military families run deep — more than seven decades deep.
The UCLA School of Medicine first partnered with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in 1947. Since then, UCLA Health doctors and residents have treated thousands of veterans and conducted hundreds of research studies to develop treatments and improve health care for veterans and the population at large.
“The support that UCLA provides to the veteran and military-connected community is vast,” says Dr. Emily Ives, director of Veterans Services for UCLA. “We’re educating veterans and military-connected individuals through our extension program and main campus undergraduate and graduate degree programs. We’re also providing education to the community about serving veterans and educating clinicians and providers about working with the community.”
Dr. Ives notes that dependents of disabled veterans may be eligible to have tuition and fees to attend UCLA waived through the CalVet College Fee Waiver program.
Juan Hernandez, an Air Force veteran and director of Veteran Affairs Relations & Programs for UCLA, says one of his missions is to spread the word about the wide array of services and programs available for veterans through UCLA.
In just the past year, UCLA distributed 40,000 free meals to veterans at the West Los Angeles VA campus. “I don’t think a lot of folks realize how much we do,” he said. “It’s huge.”
UCLA Health’s partnership with the VA has led to robust and ongoing research into veteran-specific health care needs as well as general health care and mental health care advances.
“We have what we would call an embedded research workforce in the largest integrated delivery system in the country, which is the VA,” said Dr. Elizabeth Yano, (MS, '87; PhD, '96) director of the VA Health Services Research & Development Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation & Policy and a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“Our academic appointments at UCLA and our work through being faculty at UCLA ensures that we recruit researchers who are among the best and the brightest, and our affiliation with UCLA makes sure we are doing state-of-the-art work,” Dr. Yano said. “It's the opportunity to translate innovations on the UCLA side to veteran communities. But it's also the opportunity to learn from what we're doing to implement research evidence into practice on the VA side that can inform how UCLA Health can continue to improve its own care.”
UCLA research with veteran populations has even become art, with one professor and researcher turning his work into an opera.
Dr. Kenneth Wells, (MPH. '80) a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, adapted his research interviews into an inspirational musical story that explores the trauma of war and the hope of recovery. "Veteran Journeys" premiered on Oct. 8, and was was honored with the "Special Jury Courage Award," for displaying the courage of veterans and those who serve them, at the 12th Annual Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles Oct. 30-31. The festival had 175 films, and only two were recognized with the "Courage" prize.
Here’s a look at just a sampling of UCLA’s other ongoing work with veterans:
- Dr. Yano and her team recently received the VA’s Health System Impact Award for their work on sexual harassment. “One of my studies found that one in four women veterans had been harassed in the VA on the way to see their doctor. And when we looked at female providers and staff, it was over 60%,” Dr. Yano said. “That work ended up informing not only a national culture campaign and a stand up to harassment campaign within the VA, but Congress got a hold of it, and they have legislation now that mandates how the VA has to address harassment and eliminate it nationally.”
- Dr. Sonya Gabrielian and Dr. Alex Young, both professors of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, have done extensive research on veterans and homelessness. Recent studies have explored how substance abuse and serious mental illness affect housing options and outcomes for veterans experiencing homelessness. Dr. Gabrielian received a VA Career Development Award to improve housing acquisition and retention for homeless veterans with serious mental illness.
- Dr. Donna Washington and Dr. Dawn Upchurch, ecently published a study examining how gender and race have affected COVID-19 infection rates in the Veterans Health Administration, finding that BIPOC men and women were disproportionately infected. Dr. Upchurch is a professor and vice chair of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Washington is a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of Health Equity-Quality Enhancement Research for the Veterans Health Administration.
- Dr. Evelyn Chang, a UCLA Health primary care provider and researcher at the VA, recently received a $5 million, five-year grant to study how to translate evidence-based practices into treatments for high-risk veterans, Dr. Yano says. Dr. Chang also studies opiates, addiction and pain management for the VA.
Programs and services
- The UCLA School of Law Veterans Legal Clinic: Housed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus, the Veterans Legal Clinic provides free legal assistance from UCLA law students to marginalized and underserved veterans, such as those experiencing chronic homelessness and those returning from incarceration.
- UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center: Combining academic research with direct services to families, the Nathanson Family Resilience Center offers behavioral health support to veterans and their families, including FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) Resilience Training. This program teaches practical skills to help families and couples overcome challenges common to military life through enhanced communication, problem solving and goal setting.
- Veteran Family Wellness Center: A partnership between UCLA and the VA of Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, the Veteran Family Wellness Center also provides evidence-based, customized services to meet the needs of individual and family dynamics for veterans, families and caregivers, as well as events, workshops and recreational activities.
- Operation Mend: Operation Mend is dedicated to healing the visible and invisible wounds of war. Established in 2007, the program connects severely injured veterans with experts in reconstructive surgery and provides intensive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder to veterans and their caregivers.
- The UCLA/VA Center of Excellence for Veteran Resilience and Recovery: A partnership between the VA and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the Center of Excellence aims to address the interconnected issues of veteran homelessness, mental health needs and substance abuse challenges. The program conducts research and trains clinicians who serve the veteran population.
- UCLA Athletics Veteran Affairs Events and Resources: UCLA Athletics serves veterans year-round with special events, including UCLA football’s annual Veteran and Armed Forces Appreciation Game and Jackie Robinson Day Fantasy Camp, which invites veterans to spend a day hitting and fielding balls at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
- Veterans Resource Center: A one-stop shop for a broad array of educational support services, the Veterans Resource Center works with veterans and military families through every step of the higher-education process, from application through graduation and career development.
by Sandy Cohen