BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Before Fred Kalfon started working out at the Gray Team Veterans Center a couple of months ago, the 81-year-old rarely left his home. in Florida.
Parkinson’s disease, an inner ear disorder, and other neurological problems, all likely caused by exposure of Vietnam vets to the infamous Agent Orange defoliant, hampered his mobility. His post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mainly from the execution of a woman who helped his squad, was at its worst.
The treatment received through the Department of Veterans Affairs was not working, he said. “I felt stupid the way I was walking and tripping,” said Kalfon, who led a medical support unit as a lieutenant in 1964-1965. “I was depressed”.
But after months in a veteran’s specialty gym and recovery program, the retired pharmaceutical researcher and sales manager is now socializing and trading in his walker for a cane.
He is one of the last 700 veterans of all ages to work with the Gray Team, an organization founded seven years ago that combines personalized training, camaraderie, community rides and a variety of machines in a 90-day program aimed at improving physical and mental health.
“It’s the machines, sure. It’s the therapy you take. It is the motivation (of the staff); they are there for you all the time. The cares. Attention makes a difference,” Kalfon said.
The nonprofit center, located in a converted warehouse in Boca Raton, Florida, is named in part for how the brain is known: “grey matter.” Many of the veterans who applied and were accepted into the free program suffered head trauma in battle or suffer from PTSD.
“What we’ve created here is truly magical,” said Gray Team co-founder Cary Reichbach, a 62-year-old fitness trainer and former Army police officer. The goal, he said, is to get veterans off drugs for their mental and physical ailments whenever possible. Even after completing the program, participants can still exercise, hang out, or go on rides.
With government data showing that veterans are 50% more likely than non-veterans to commit suicide, Reichbach is proud that the center is helping to combat this statistic.
“We want to attack the idea of suicide even before it appears,” he said.
He acknowledges that suicide prevention is easier because the center does not accept clients who live on the streets or have uncontrolled addictions.
“I would like to have the funds to attack” those issues,” he said.
The Gray Team program includes a series of machines that use infrared light, lasers and sound waves to relieve stress, heal mental and physical wounds, and help veterans sleep without medication. The program is primarily run by a team of seven, including a medical director.
Drugs are overused in other VA programs, such as those at VA hospitals, often because “they have a budget and they have to spend it,” Reichbach said.