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Wellness program targets vets

By Staff | Dec 18, 2015



Post 9/11 veterans who live in Lee County have the opportunity to join a free six-month program that is based around physical health and wellness.

Home Base is a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and the Massachusetts General Hospital. Southwest Florida Program Manager Armando Hernandez said Southwest Florida Warrior Health and Fitness was implemented locally June 2014 in after a meeting was had amongst some great minds.

“The idea came into play during the Spring Training over at JetBlue Park,” he said. “By June we launched the program.”

Hernandez wanted to become involved because he knew firsthand how fitness had helped him after transitioning from military to civilian life.

“When I got out I had my own set of issues,” he said. “Exercise and eating right led to sleeping better, which led to positive things in my life.”

Hernandez was attending college as an accounting major before deciding to change to an exercise science program at Florida Gulf Coast University. He said while studying accounting he fell in love with exercise and within six months he lost a good deal of weight and began sleeping better.

“I knew I wanted to help people with exercise,” Hernandez said. “To be able to do it for my own population and for this type of program, it doesn’t get any better.”

The Southwest Florida Warrior Health and Fitness Program is offered for post-9/11 veterans who are interested in improving their health and fitness.

Cape resident Adam Engelhart, a Reserve Center soldier and Purple Heart recipient, joined the program in October after hearing about the opportunity through his group counselor. He is an Army veteran who did six years of active duty and is now in the reserves.

“I won’t be done until May,” he said of the program.

City of Cape Coral Safety, Health and Environmental Officer Matthew Loebs attended an orientation last weekend after hearing about it from Engelhart. Loebs, an Army Reserves veteran, was exposed to chemical warfare agents during his deployment.

“It just seems like a good way to get motivated to get a little healthier than you are right now. It’s a good bonding experience when you are in and around vets,” he said.

Every six months, with the next orientation scheduled mid to late spring, is open for interested veterans. The three-hour orientation includes a physical, Hernandez said, because the veteran’s health is their highest priority.

“We want to know about their medical issues,” he said.

The program also includes clearance from the veteran’s primary care physician, so they know what kind of program their patient is participating in for six months. Hernandez said in addition to opening the lines of communication with the primary physician, doing their own physical lets them know where the veteran’s starting point is in the fitness portion of the program.

If the veteran has had any surgery due to injuries, Home Base also speaks with the surgeon, so they, too, know of the program.

“(It) usually (takes) about two weeks to go through everything to make sure we have a good understanding of where everyone is at,” Hernandez said of the process.

The six-month program is based on five components, with each component including a specialized team. He said the staff are veterans who were also deployed.

“We dealt with the same set of issues of depression, anxiety, anger, weight gain, self-doubt. We felt those things,” Hernandez said. “All I have to do is tell them about myself and it gives them confidence.”

The first component is exercising, which includes a strength and conditioning specialist who designs and implements the workouts for each veteran.

“I had a shrapnel injury to my ankle,” Engelhart said. “I can’t run for more than a mile without it being incredibly painful. (The program) helped me with becoming a lot more fit and enabled me to run on an anti-type gravity treadmill.”

The program entails 30 to 35 hours a week of exercise. Hernandez said they have a partnership with the College of Health Professions and Social Work at Florida Gulf Coast University allowing them to use their academic gym. A set of hours are set throughout the week, allowing the program participants with the opportunity to stop by the gym when it’s convenient for them.

“We are trying to do something that is an issue around this population,” Hernandez said.

He said there is a lack of education in regards to physical fitness, especially after leaving the service. Hernandez said while in the service he followed rules and ran a lot.

“When you get out you have no idea how to do it anymore and you may have injuries,” he said of exercising.

An important component of the exercise portion is education. Hernandez said they teach the veterans what they are doing, as well as how to work around their injuries while exercising.

“During the six months we are trying to educate why we are doing what we are doing and how to make the modifications,” he said. “We try to implement these changes and get them to understand the importance of them.”

Another component is nutrition, which includes a registered dietitian. The dietician works with the veterans, their spouses and families to educate them on how to make healthier lifestyle decisions based on nutrition. Monthly classes and workshops are held, as well as one-on-one meetings.

A sleep specialist and mental skills coach is another component of the program. The last component includes a social aspect to build camaraderie between the veterans, while utilizing the skills they have learned.

At least once a month a social activity is planned, which revolves around something physical. In the past they have repelled down a tower, wake boarded and had batting practice on the field at JetBlue Park.

This year, 60 veterans have been touched though the program.

For more information about the program, contact Hernandez at (239) 770-2414, ahernandez17@partners.org, or visit www.homebaseprogram.org.