At a time when he’s supposed to be celebrating his religious rite of passage, 13-year-old Josh Neidorf decided to make his bar mitzvah about celebrating those who serve their country. As a result, he donated most of his bar mitzvah money, $13,000, to Operation Mend, a groundbreaking program out of UCLA that repairs extreme injuries and disfigurements in soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Neidorf explained his decision to local news outlet, KCAL9, “I just love knowing that it’s going somewhere to help the people who save our lives and keep us safe every day.”
Operation Mend is a privately funded program that was founded in 2007 by philanthropist Ron Katz. According to The Huffington Post, Katz was moved to act by the news of returning vet Aaron Mankin and the dozens of surgeries he would need to repair an explosives injury to his face. Mankin eventually became the first Operation Mend patient.
Katz told the Post, "My wife and I soon realized that there were dozens of Aarons out there. These men and women deserve not only the best that the defense sector has to offer, they deserve the best that the private sector has to offer as well."
Though it started with plastic reconstruction, Operation Mend has expanded to include a host of other highly technical specialties, including orthopedic reconstruction, airway reconstruction and mental health programs for both soldiers and their caregivers.
Veterans face some incredible odds upon their return to civilian life, chief among them being their health issues. Of the two million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve already returned home, the Los Angeles Times reports most endure recurring issues from physical trauma that include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss and tinnitus, and head injuries.
Operation Mend may be small in terms of the number of patients it can serve at any time (it will have served 72 this year), but it provides a place for our most severely injured to be treated by the nation’s most skilled medical staff using the latest in advanced techniques.
Obviously our returning soldiers are the most deserving of ample and expert medical care. But adopting veteran care as a cultural priority clearly has positive results for all of us. Children like Joshua Neidorf learn and can demonstrate real generosity and people in general come to understand we're so much stronger when we refuse to leave any of our own behind.
Are you a veteran or the loved one of a returning soldier? What would you like to see provided for them to make the transition to civilian life smoother?
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com