Have you ever heard the term “invisible wounds of war?”
It’s an important issue affecting military veterans and a big reason why ChiliSleep recently partnered with an organization called Grey Team.
Grey Team is a Florida-based veterans nonprofit and their very important mission is to reduce veteran suicide rates. It offers veterans free personalized health and wellness programs -- yes, free!
“Because we’re veterans ourselves, we’re able to empathize with the complex issues that can develop,” said Cary Reichbach, the founder of Grey Team. "It's a 90-day protocol and no veteran ever pays any of these costs."
"The fact that ChiliSleep is graciously donating its temperature-regulated sleep systems is a huge win for our program and will continue to provide natural, drug-free approaches to healing veterans from the inside out. With good sleep comes a host of benefits, including stronger immune systems, faster cognitive abilities, more energy to exercise, and improved mental health,” he said.
Many of the services that Grey Team offers to veterans comes from Reichbach's search for what worked for him after transitioning to the civilian world after his life in the Army.
What Are the Invisible Wounds of War?
Before we dive into our eye-opening Q&A interview with Reichbach below, I wanted to quickly define “non-visible” wounds. According to military statistics, thousands of soldiers receive non-visible wounds (such as traumatic brain injury or PTSD) during their service.
However, less than 50% receive treatment! Compare that to the over 95% who receive treatment for visible wounds, and the discrepancy supplies one of the reasons for the current high suicide rate.
How Grey Team Helps Veterans
What services do veterans receive?
Today, Grey Team offers one-on-one personal training, yoga, cryotherapy, infrared detoxification, low-level laser therapy, acupuncture for pain relief, 3D body scanning, and community safe-spaces.
Our team here at ChiliSleep has also been working closely with Grey Team to lend our support and services. The first phase of our partnership is a commitment to ongoing academic research into sleep's role in veterans' physical and mental health.
Our team has also donated ChiliSleep’s Cube with Chilipad™, which are water-regulated mattress pads that cool as low as 55°F and allow users to fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and wake up rested. In this second phase of our partnership, our sleep tech products will be a new addition to Grey Team’s on-site wellness tools. Plus, we’ve also donated additional Cube sleep systems for veterans to take home and use to improve their deep sleep.
Q&A: How Grey Team Is Saving Lives and Helping the Community
Q: Thanks for chatting with me today! I want to start our conversation by asking what makes Grey Team’s Operation Phoenix protocol so impactful for veterans.
A: We get young veterans who have already started on unsatisfactory interventions. Probably on 13-17 different medications and they’re 22-years-old; the last thing they need is all of those medications. We’re completely the opposite direction, we’re about “whole body” and a holistic approach.
Q: What do you mean by the term Operation Phoenix?
A: Operation Phoenix is our designation for a program where we take a service member or veteran, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and completely rebuild them, both mind and body, to ease the transition back to civilian society. Veterans gave up their culture, language, and life when they left the military. Many of their friends are still deployed overseas and they’ve come home, become aware that they are now alone and begin to isolate themselves. Maybe some don’t have a lot of health issues yet but they’re beginning to develop them. We host a lot of community events -- it forces them to come out of their shell, and they’re helping others while also helping themselves.
Q: How do veterans get signed up and into your 90-day program?
A: There’s a form on our website, they just complete the online form and we reach out for an interview. After the interview, we then build a custom wellness regime 2-3 weeks later. We gauge how they’re progressing, and 30 days later conduct a wellness check, 3D wellness scan, fix balance issues, as well as do cognitive testing to see if PTSD symptoms are going away. One of the big indicators of improvement we utilize is whether they’re sleeping better.
Q: What’s their sleep quality like when veterans first arrive at your program?
A: If they get 12 minutes of deep sleep at night, that’s a lot. Their sleep cycles are completely whacked out. Not sleeping becomes a habit, and that’s something we have to break and teach them over and over. Good, restful, sleep is a huge problem for veterans.
Q: Do you teach them -- or have a nutritionist on staff or someone who curates what to eat and drink?
A: Yes, nutrition is another huge factor. Most join the military right out of high school, and go right from our moms, to Uncle Sam, who provides housing and food. We never really learn to take care of ourselves and the knowledge of what to eat. Then when they become a civilian, they start eating cheap, quick fast food. They’re overloaded with toxins from their time in the service and the fast food only adds to it.
Q: What do you mean by toxins?
A: Well, bullets are coated with lead and other contaminants. Washing your hands afterwards is a luxury that soldiers in combat don’t get, so when you have a moment to eat, you reach for an MRE (meal ready to eat), and eat it quickly, basically ingesting lead and other toxins from the battlefield. Cumulatively, these toxins build up in the body, especially on those service members who are living, working, and sleeping next to a burn pit, and you now have severe abdominal pain symptoms.
Q: What’s burn pit exposure?
A: It is a pit dug into the earth for waste disposal in 3rd world countries where the U.S. has a military base. It can be up to 10 acres in size and is used to burn up to 147 tons of waste per day, containing but not limited to, chemicals, paints, medical waste, human waste, metal and aluminum products, electronic waste, munitions (including unexploded bombs), petroleum products, lubricants, plastics, rubber, wood, and food waste. A typical burn pit uses jet fuel as the accelerant. The pit creates clouds of black smoke as it basically burns hotter than the sun, and you’re sleeping 40 meters from that, and the metal is so hot that it is atomizing into the air.
Sometimes our troops sleep with a wet t-shirt over their nose and mouth because they can’t even breathe the air. Thousands of soldiers are around that burn pit and their organs are overloaded with toxins when they leave the military. Add the fast food they typically eat after transitioning to the civilian world and they develop an entire host of problems. They turn to their local VA for support -- because that’s what they’ve been told -- complaining of severe abdominal pain, and are given pharmaceutical drugs instead of treating the root cause -- contamination.
Q: How are your services at Grey Team different from what they’re getting at their local VA?
A: Well, immediately we shift them to an all-organic diet and we teach them HOW to eat. We also have them use the infrared sauna 3-4 times a week to chelate and detox. Amazingly, we have to air out the sauna in between patients because you can smell jet fuel and diesel fuel in the sauna itself immediately afterwards.
Q: How do they react when they start to put the pieces together for why they were feeling so terrible?
A: The typical response is, “I didn’t know what was wrong but it always felt like I had the flu and brain fog. The U.S. government has agreed to pay for college with the GI Bill but I stopped going because I just couldn’t function in class.” That’s an amazing connection for these veterans, because now they identify solutions, and that’s the key to preventing depression, anxiety, and suicide. The good news is that most of the time, but not always, the symptoms can be reversed.
Q: You mentioned deep sleep earlier. Do you have data from the program on deep sleep and how their quality improves over the 90 days?
A: Once a week we survey them with a quality of life survey on how they’re progressing; but right now, it’s a subjective answer. And while we have had tremendous luck tracking sleep with the OURA Ring technology, supplying the rings to all of our veterans is currently outside of our budget.
Q: How do you educate them on the critical role of sleep in their recovery?
A: We teach them that sleep is not something to do only when you’re bored. In order to progress to the next level, we put them through a fitness regime, and they HAVE to focus on their sleep. We tell them, “Your body won’t heal unless you prioritize sleep!”
Q: How will the veterans be using and benefiting from colder sleep as part of their 90-day program?
A: Well, I first want to say thank you for donating so many ChiliSleep bedding systems. The #1 reason there’s no cost to veterans is because there are companies like you that graciously provide service and tools. Typically we run around 20 veterans through Operation Phoenix. Since it’s a 90-day program, the ChiliSleep products will rotate through those 20 veterans over the 90-day period to study how their sleep quality and overall cognitive performance improves.
Q: We’re thrilled to be helping your mission -- deep sleep is our passion!
A: Yes, I sleep on a Chilipad every night. When I have to go without it in hotel rooms, it’s tough! It’s very addicting and there’s just nothing like it. In the future, I’d love for ChiliSleep to be in with the Veterans Administration because your solutions would help hundreds of thousands of veterans get the sleep they so deserve.
Q: Do you help veterans only local to South Florida or nationwide?
A: We actually get -- at least once a night -- an email, text, or FB message where a veteran is requesting help. They end up calling us, even though we’re in different time zones. We sometimes will fly them here to Florida for 30-60 days, and we have them undergo part of our program. Someone came to our program from Ohio after his daughter found him about to attempt suicide. His daughter found him, saved him, and he just broke down crying. He said, “Okay, I need help.” After being part of our program, today he’s happy, he’s healthy, and he’s flourishing! But if he had acted on his suicidal impulses 5 minutes earlier, his daughter would be scarred for life and without a father.
Q: What does it look like after the veterans have “graduated” and completed the 90-day program?
A: We don’t require it but often the veterans stay on as mentors! They can still use the fitness facility at their leisure and do the Big Brother/Big Sister thing for the newer vets coming in. They mentor and it’s a cycle where they stay on, participate in our community events, and they literally walk the newer vets through their programs and say, “I did it, so I know you can too.” The veterans who have graduated from Grey Team are our best advocates in the community. Now they’re healthy, their energy levels are higher, we teach them mindfulness, meditation, and nutrition. It's the ripple effect. So it’s not just the veteran we help -- it’s also their spouse, their children, their parents, and ultimately the entire community.
About Grey Team
It is through the generous donations of private citizens, as well as grants, that Grey Team continues to offer therapeutic services to Veterans and active duty service members at no cost.
Understanding PTSD Symptoms and Sleep:
It is estimated that 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD sometime in their lifetime. Learn about PTSD and how sleep and cooler beds can be used to make it better.
How Veterans with PTSD Can Get More Sleep:
We recently chatted with an Army veteran struggling with sleep issues, including sleeping hot, PTSD, and sleep apnea. Learn more on how the Cube improved his health.
Q&A with Nonprofit Grey Team:
ChiliSleep's now partnering with Grey Team to study sleep's role in veterans' physical and mental health! Read our new Q&A to learn more about the partnership.