Getting Veterans on the Road to Wellness

Healthbeat

Programs help vets recover from health setbacks

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Local veterans dealing with health setbacks are getting back on their feet thanks to some long-standing programs.

Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller went to the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center to see how vets are benefiting.

Al Kircher of Forty Fort is no stranger to exercise. “(I’ve) been a marathon runner, a bike rider, bike racer,” Mr. Kircher said.

But the U.S. Marine veteran’s military service during Vietnam took a toll. He developed serious health problems he blames on exposure to Agent Orange.

“Well, it kind of knocked me down because I always thought being a marathon runner and you know being very active all my life I thought I was immune to heart disease and diabetes but that was not the case,” Mr. Kircher said.

Mr. Kircher decided to tackle those two chronic diseases the best way he knows how. “I come up here three times a week.” The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center is home to cardiac and pulmonary rehab clinics and a veteran’s wellness gym.

Watching Mr. Kircher exercise in the veteran’s wellness gym, Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center Kinesiotherapist Gary Adams said, “(It) keeps his heart rate up. Really helps his overall health.” Mr. Adams oversees the VA’s exercise and education program to help veterans return to a better quality of life.

“So getting up, getting moving, getting on the proper diet, getting them watching their sugars closer, all of that plays into a big role of getting them back on their feet,” he said.

“Oh, this is too easy now,” laughed U.S. Air Force veteran Mike Mallis of Hanover Township while demonstrating a pectoral fly machine before weights were added to it. He accomplished something that wasn’t easy at all: losing 100 pounds.

“(I) went through the MOVE! program. Stayed with it,” Mr. Mallis said.

Besides getting exercise, the VA’s MOVE! program put Mr. Mallis on a path to healthy eating. The combination really helped him overcome chronic back problems that stem from a serious injury during his military service.

“If I don’t exercise, I can’t stand more than 15 minutes or sit more. And exercise keeps me going and going and it’s a challenge because it’s more of your life now,” Mr. Mallis said.

A life transformation for him and so many other vets. Mr. Adams said, “And that’s the big thing. We’re looking at a better quality of life not only now but five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

The veteran’s wellness gym is open Monday through Friday at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center and it’s free to vets.

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