Like many homeless veterans, James Williams had hit what he called a “bottomless pit.” He had seen it all. Aside from homelessness, his many medical maladies were catching up with him as he got older, including diabetes, early stages of emphysema, and a heart condition. James, 60, says he got involved with drugs from a young age, but eventually got married and had five children. The marriage dissolved with the same kind of behaviors and attitudes that come with drug addiction, and he found himself in a downward spiral.
While participating in an outreach program at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, he met a representative from Soldier On, where he now resides. Being at Soldier On, he says, allowed him to focus on his addiction and, importantly, his health. “If I had continued the way I was, I would have ended up dying in prison,” James says. “I didn’t want to do that to my grandchildren because I wanted to be in their lives.” To that end, James was one of three veterans in Soldier On’s Pittsfield facility to enroll in the Berkshire Health Systems Canyon Ranch Institute’s Life Enhancement Program. Life Enhancement is an intense weekly program for committed individuals who want to address their chronic diseases by changing their life by focusing on four dimensions of health: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. By taking an active part in his recovery, James said he has found a better way to deal with his illnesses through the program by diet, exercise, nutrition, and gaining a deeper understanding of his conditions.
James said his health has improved considerably since enrolling in the program. “I had been told that I was a stroke waiting to happen,” James says. “When the opportunity came along to do this program, I said why not get involved in something that will better me in the long run and put me on a track to better health and attitude.”
James was joined in the Life Enhancement Program by fellow veterans Kevin Counter and Chip Mantz. Kevin, 48, who served in the Army from 1990-98, was being kept back from serving overseas because of his Crohn’s Disease, which was diagnosed in 1991. When his disease worsened, he was eventually given a medical retirement.
Sick with Crohn’s and waiting for his VA claim to come through, Kevin found himself fighting alcohol and drug addiction because of his tendency at the time to self-medicate. He also lost his job because he was often sick and he eventually became homeless. The VA Medical Center in Leeds, where Kevin was receiving his primary care, steered him to Soldier On.
Kevin was prompted to participate in the Life Enhancement Program to learn more about his disease and manage it better. What he has learned, he says, is that his symptoms are definitely associated with nutrition and exercise, which he has improved upon, while also finding ways to reduce stress, which is another contributing factor with Crohn’s. Taking active role through the Life Enhancement Program has helped him to better deal with the disease and relieve his symptoms, he says.
Chip Mantz, who served in the U.S. Navy nine years, has 23 years of sobriety to his credit. After losing his job and his apartment, Chip became homelesss in his home town of Allentown, PA.
Chip went to the VA for homeless services and they gave him a choice to go to either San Diego or to Massachusetts to Soldier On for placement.
“I had a car that wouldn’t make it as far as Mississippi,” Chip says. “So my choice was clear.”
The head of case management at Soldier On, John Crane, urged Chip to enroll in the Life Enhancement Program to deal with his weight and other issues. He has had perfect attendance since.
“I’m learning good stuff,” Chip says. “The program is helping me to zero in on what is healthy and not healthy to eat and what kind of exercise I should be involved in.”
The Berkshire Health System’s Canyon Ranch Institute offers its programming typically in low-income or medically underserved communities, and helps individuals to change their life. James Williams, Kevin Counter and Chip Mantz can attest to that.