For Tony DeFrancesco, it’s difficult to envision a more important UCLA job than his. As the campus’s chief liaison and executive director of veterans affairs relations and programs, DeFrancesco says it’s his job not only to make sure veterans feel supported on campus but to also make sure UCLA’s partnership and programs with the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration remain successful in helping those who have served their country.
“They have given so much with their service. It’s truly my privilege to repay their service by helping them,” said DeFrancesco, who since he started his job on Sept. 1 has overseen UCLA’s veteran-focused programs on the West Los Angeles VA campus to ensure compliance with the joint lease agreement between UCLA and the VA.
In his role, DeFrancesco develops and works with community and campus partners on initiatives geared toward veterans’ needs, and he builds and maintains relations with on-campus and off-campus groups to promote and implement UCLA’s veteran-related efforts.
DeFrancesco collaborates with UCLA departments that engage in veterans-related research, training and programming and facilitates efforts to create new UCLA veteran-centric programs both on campus and at the West Los Angeles VA.
In a more public-facing part of his job, DeFrancesco also fosters relationships and open lines of communication with political leaders at the federal, state and local levels who are advocates for veterans.
DeFrancesco’s appointment continues a 70-plus year partnership between UCLA and the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles campus that has featured service, training and research on behalf of veterans. Through an array of programs, units across UCLA’s campus provides health care, meals, legal representation, recreational opportunities and other resources to veterans and their families, and collaborates on vital medical and social research. These include:
- The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center has served more than 26,000 veterans and their family members — including nearly 7,000 veterans in 2020 — at no cost since opening in August 2017. The center provides resilience and skills training and other consultations.
- The UCLA School of Law Veterans Legal Clinic offers legal representation at no cost to homeless, disabled and other veterans. In the clinic’s first three years of operation, UCLA faculty and students provided legal assistance to more than 500 veterans in nearly 700 matters.
- UCLA Dining provides more than 1,300 free meals per week to homeless veterans, distributed through the Village for Vets program which utilizes the extra capacity of UCLA Housing & Hospitality Dining Services to prepare and deliver nutritious meals to homeless veterans. The program provides meals to about 150 food insecure veterans each day.
- The VA/UCLA Center of Excellence on Veteran Resilience and Recovery has four pilot grants awarded to junior investigators who are conducting veteran-engaged research or training activities that further the resilience and recovery of veterans who have experienced homelessness and/or behavioral health problems.
- UCLA Athletics has donated more than 4,600 clothing items to veterans, more than 2,250 free or discounted tickets to UCLA games, coordinated 165 veteran-centric events and provided $20,000 in camp scholarships.
Another shining example of how UCLA has served veterans is Operation Mend, which has offered personalized treatment at no cost to more than 1,100 veterans of recent conflicts struggling with symptoms related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury and physical injuries connected to military service.
DeFrancesco brings more than 22 years of health care management and five years of higher education administration experience to his role.
Prior to joining UCLA, he worked for the University of Arizona Health Sciences as the assistant vice president, operations. In that job, he handled financial and administrative management and oversight for five colleges within the university, health sciences administrative units, and numerous research centers. DeFrancesco previously worked at Sepulveda Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley also as associate director/chief operating officer of the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System, where he also served as interim medical center director.
DeFrancesco received his master’s degree in nutritional science from Cal State Los Angeles, and his bachelor’s in food service management/dietetics from the University of Arizona.