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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Veterans on the MOVE!

Nov 06, 2018 05:02AM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Veterans meet at Canyon View Park every Wednesday and log their steps as part of the VA MOVE! Program.

September 16, 2017, is a date veteran Clifford Wheeler will never forget.

It was the day he joined the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center’s MOVE! program—a decision that radically changed his life for the better.

Clifford Wheeler after dropping 127 pounds in just over a year with the MOVE! program

Weighing 353 pounds when he started, Wheeler felt constantly exhausted. He suffered from severe knee pain and couldn’t tie his shoes. In just over a year after joining MOVE!, he dropped 127 pounds and 36 percent of his body weight, closing in on his goal of 190.

“Just like the program’s name, the key is to move,” said Wheeler, 69, who no longer experiences pain and keeps up his progress by walking for 30 minutes twice a day. “You can’t lose weight just sitting around.”

Setting up for success

Veterans nationwide are seeing astounding results through MOVE!, a program developed by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to address weight and weight-related health issues by focusing on healthy eating, physical activity and behavioral changes.

“The purpose of the MOVE! program is to treat the disease of obesity,” said registered dietitian and local MOVE! Program Coordinator Melissa Klemp.

The VA reports that 80 percent of veterans are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint and back pain, sleep deprivation, PTSD and cancer.

According to Klemp, physical exercise contributes to 20 percent of weight loss while 80 percent is due to nutrition and what we eat.

MOVE! is offered in several small group sessions averaging six to eight people. These 16-week sessions cover a variety of topics, including how to read nutrition facts, maintaining a food and activity log, how to prepare healthy meals and snacks, the different types of physical activity and how to do them safely, understanding mindful eating and ways of managing stress and dealing with weight plateaus.

Sessions are offered simultaneously at different times and days of the week to accommodate participants’ schedules.

“If people don’t do well in groups or have a busy lifestyle, we can still make MOVE! happen for them,” said Klemp, who also coordinates with veterans from Montrose, Craig, Moab and Glenwood Springs by offering weekly group sessions via Skype. “We never turn anyone away, and the program is entirely free.”

Not a veteran?

Download the MOVE!® Coach App Available in the App Store (Apple devices) and Google Play (Android devices)

MOVE!® Coach is a weight loss app for veterans, service members, their families, and others who want to lose weight. This program guides the participants to achieve success with weight loss through education and use of tools, in an easy and convenient way. Participants can monitor, track and receive feedback regarding their progress with weight, diet and exercise goals. For more information, visit

MOVE! is open to veterans of all ages regardless of whether they use VA care. Even members of the public can access the program’s resources by downloading the MOVE! Coach app on their phones or tablets.

Veterans’ spouses can also participate in many parts of the program free of charge. In fact, Klemp encourages them to join, especially if they’re the ones doing most of the cooking or shopping.

Wheeler’s wife, Pat, 68, who has walked alongside her husband through the MOVE! program, has lost 75 pounds to date.

Evidence-based results

MOVE! participants set SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.

When participants lose 5 to 10 percent of their body weights, Klemp notifies their doctors so they can get a new look at lab work and medication levels. Some participants have been able to get off blood pressure or diabetes medication completely.

“They tell me things like, ‘I can breathe a lot easier’ or ‘Look, I need to get a smaller belt!’ and ‘I’m so excited because I spilled on my lap today instead of my stomach!’” said Klemp.

The program is evidence based. Klemp added that the success of MOVE! nationally is measured by the number of contacts per person and the percentage of weight loss overall.

“Our MOVE! program is double the national average of contacts, retention and follow up,” she said. “At the VA, we have access to all kinds of support. The continuity of care here is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Camaraderie and support

Support continues after the regular sessions are over with monthly weigh-ins and follow-up classes, and weekly Wednesday walks with participants meeting at Canyon View Park for camaraderie and exercise.

Wednesday walkers and Navy men Chuck Shafer, 69, and Mel Bennett, 72, Bonded instantly upon finding out they had crossed paths While Serving during the Vietnam War. They continue with MOVE! to maintain their weight loss success.

Some participants like the accountability, while others prefer to monitor themselves at home. It’s also not uncommon for some people to start the program and find they’re not quite ready, then return at a later time. Others find it so helpful that they repeat the sessions a few years later for a refresher or continued support.

Lou Massicotte, 72, lost 20 pounds through MOVE!, but remains in the program after 10 years because his doctor told him, “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing!”

MOVE! has also allowed veterans to get back to the things they love. Before climbing Quandary Peak last summer, it’d been 40 years since Frank Hagey, 71, climbed his last fourteener.

“I started the program in preparation for the fourteener, but now it’s a habit,” said Hagey, who now walks 24,000-30,000 steps a day. “MOVE! is not a fad, it’s a lifestyle.”

John Cox, 77, has lost 50 pounds in the two years he’s been with the program.

“I’ve gone from walking 1/4 mile each week to five miles twice a week,” he said. “MOVE! is terrific.”

He added that he recommends the program to every veteran he meets.

“It’s a commitment,” said Klemp. “I tell them it’s a little like school. I even give them some homework. We want to make sure we give them the steps and tools they need so it’s worthwhile.”

Ready to get moving?

Signing up is easy. Just contact the Nutrition Clinic at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center to get scheduled for the next orientation class. Call 263-2847 or visit the clinic on the third floor of building 1 to get started.

MOVE! 16-week overview


• How to maintain a food and activity log

• How to read nutrition fact labels

• Understanding heart-healthy nutrition

• How to prepare healthy meals and snacks

• Portion sizes and how to eat out successfully

• Methods for increasing fruit and vegetable intake

Physical activity

• Types of physical activity—aerobic, strength and flexibility— and how to do them safely

• How to use a pedometer

• Overcoming physical activity barriers

Behavioral health

• Understanding mindful eating

• Developing a health value

• Confidence in setting and achieving goals

• Methods for managing stress and dealing with weight plateaus

• How to stay motivated

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