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Better than boot camp—Veteran camp offers respite

group of men and women at wooded camp with flags

Indianapolis area Veterans connected with the great outdoors and each other in a weekend Whole Health camp.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Veterans had the chance to go to camp—and it wasn’t boot camp! Nineteen men and women attended Whole Health camp sponsored by the Indianapolis VA Medical Center and the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA.  Instead of physical training, they enjoyed cooking, sports, and camaraderie.

The weekend camp at the YMCA’s Flat Rock Camp featured archery, rifle marksmanship, fishing, kayaking, and climbing. It was a time for community, recreation, and focus on health and well-being. Other camp activities included aromatherapy and a cooking class. “We had a dietitian come and teach about healthy cooking for the outdoors, which was a huge hit,” VA Recreation Therapist Evan Davis said. Each camper also received a Personal Health Inventory to help them determine their own aspirations for well-being.

According to Davis, camp activities were planned around the eight components of the Circle of Health. In addition, VA and YMCA staff worked to “create a space for Veterans to relax, rehabilitate, and create community,” he explained. Davis said the campers found the weekend helped them focus most on “recharge” and “spirit and soul.”

Veteran Ethan Hughes said, he appreciated “the multiple recreational and sport activities and the different type of therapeutic activities offered by trained VA specialists.” Hughes also said the experience helped him get plugged into the VA recreational therapy program. “It helped me emotionally to spend time with fellow Veterans,” Hughes added.

Keri Maloney, Whole Health program manager for the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, said the connections that were made at the camp will help support Veterans throughout the region. For example, “One of our campers is involved in an organization designed to support Veterans who are experiencing legal challenges,” she said. Maloney later offered an introduction to Whole Health to those Veterans. Another Veteran at the camp who had been struggling to find employment connected with a fellow camper who works in workforce placement.

One camper took the opportunity to stop smoking, since it was not permitted at the YMCA camp. “He’d been smoking since he was 8 years old. And he called me the day before [the camp] because the email said that there was no smoking on YMCA facilities. And he said he could do it, and he did! He didn't smoke at all. And he actually hasn't smoked a cigarette since,” Davis explained.

Evans and Maloney, both Veterans themselves, hope to offer the camp again and focus on the foundational aspects of Whole Health, especially the Personal Health Inventory. In the meantime, the Indianapolis VA Medical Center and offer Whole Health services, including coaching and various therapies.

In addition to the camp, the Indianapolis VA Medical Center and the OrthoIndy YMCA share space to offer Whole Health services. “We offer tai chi, yoga, and mindfulness classes throughout the region but largely within the OrthoIndy YMCA location,” she said. YMCA services at the facility include personal training, fitness equipment and pool, exercise classes, chronic disease prevention programs, and even a teaching kitchen. Veterans and their families receive a 20% discount for YMCA membership.


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