Washington D.C.WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Today, Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) joined the lead sponsor Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) in introduction of the Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act to help expand opportunities for veterans to access the outdoors for medical care and therapy:  

“Access to the outdoors is proven to have a positive impact on mental health and physical wellbeing. For our veterans, the healing effects of nature can be especially powerful,” said Rep. Adam Smith. “In Washington state, we know the incredible benefits that come from spending time in nature, and we owe it to our servicemen and women to open the door to all avenues of recovery when they return home. I am honored to be joining with Rep. Chris Smith in the introduction of this bi-partisan legislation to help connect our nation’s veterans with the great outdoors. By bringing together stakeholders from the VA and Land Management, we are building a foundation that will ensure that our veterans and their families can experience the restorative power of the public lands their service to our country has protected.”

“Studies have shown that outdoor recreation can also produce holistic, therapeutic benefits for veterans, and this is yet another treatment option that we should consider for veterans who want it,” said Rep. Chris Smith. “Our military service men and women deserve support in every way, and we should explore all avenues, great and small, of providing care and treatment for them. My legislation would help expand access to federal lands for outdoor recreation and should be part of our comprehensive response—a small part, but an important one nevertheless—in veteran care.”

A 2013 report by the Sierra Club said that of a sample study of veterans who took part in month-long group wilderness recreation programs, participants exhibited “significant improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning, and life outlook.” The Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act, would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish, within 180 days of enactment, an inter-agency task force to be co-chaired by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior and including the Secretary of HHS, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Defense as members. The task force would seek to increase the availability of federal lands for use for medical therapy for veterans.

The task force would also help increase coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs and public land agencies on using public lands for therapy and medical treatment.

The bill is supported by a number of outdoor recreation and veterans advocacy groups, including Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Minority Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Blue Star Families, Vet Voice Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, PeopleForBikes, Outdoor Alliance, and Outdoor Industry Association.

Veterans of Foreign Wars

 

“Outdoor recreations such as hunting and fishing provide camaraderie and healing for veterans who struggle with the wounds of war. The VFW supports expanding such opportunities for veterans and thanks Congressman Chris Smith for introducing the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act,” said VFW National Legislative Service Director Carlos Fuentes. “This bill would ensure barriers to accessing outdoor activities that assist veterans are evaluated and removed if needed.”

Disabled American Veterans

“Year after year, events like the DAV and VA co-sponsored National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament, prove the life-changing, therapeutic power of outdoor recreation,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander, Dennis Nixon. “DAV is pleased to support The Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act as it could provide even more places and opportunities for injured and ill veterans to thrive and rebuild their lives through this invaluable form of alternative therapy.”

Minority Veterans of America

“Being outdoors in nature saved my life! During my transition from the Army, I felt as if everything around me was crashing. I endured through hopelessness, despair, lost...I became suicidal, again, and had even attempted to end my life. I have always loved being active and pushed myself to go hiking one weekend in the Olympics. For the first time in years, I felt whole again, as if I belonged in this world. Two years later, I plan to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2019. Veterans have demanded for years outdoor recreation programs be a part of our mental health treatment,” said Robert White, VP of Internal Relations for Minority Veterans of America. “It is long overdue for the VA to recognize this basic, yet vital need...they now have the opportunity to begin providing Veterans with this service!”

Blue Star Families

“The outdoors provide military families a much-needed place of recreation, rejuvenation, and healing. At Blue Star Families, programs such as Blue Star Parks connect the military community to nature, because the parks make a difference,” stated Kathy Roth-Douquet, Founder and CEO of Blue Star Families. “An overwhelming majority of military families report that visiting parks provides a much-needed outlet from the stress of their daily lives. We commend this bi-partisan bill from Congressmen Chris Smith and Adam Smith because it will make our nation's backyard more accessible for our veteran community and their families. Protecting and preserving these beautiful lands is one of the reasons we serve and sacrifice, so it means so much to us to enjoy them with our families.”

National Parks Conservation Association

“This study is needed to recognize the healing power of the outdoors for all users, especially our military veterans.  The benefits are real to anyone who has enjoyed our parks and public lands,” said Ani Kame’enui, Legislative Director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

University of Washington

“Preliminary evidence suggests that outdoor hiking—combining the benefits of nature contact, group bonding, and physical activity—may be effective in treating veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also know that nature contact has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and is associated with decreased likelihood of depression,” said Gregory Bratman, Doug Walker Endowed Professor of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington. “This bill would provide an opportunity to maximize use of federal lands to gain more understanding about the ways in which nature experience benefits the people who have served our country, informing the design of future interventions aimed at addressing their pressing mental and physical health needs.”

REI Co-op

“At REI Co-op, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.  It can even be healing, especially for our veterans who have sacrificed much of their lives to protect our nation,” said Jerry Stritzke, REI’s President and CEO.  “We owe them our gratitude not just today, but every day.  So, we applaud congressmen Chris Smith and Adam Smith for taking this basic step, instructing the VA and the nation’s land managers to determine how our lands can be used to help our veterans heal.  We know the outdoors is good for you.  It’s only right that we make it as easy as possible for our veterans to rejuvenate among the country’s natural wonders.”

The Vet Voice Foundation

The Vet Voice Foundation said in a statement: “The Vet Voice Foundation strongly endorses the bi-partisan bill co-sponsored by Representatives Chris Smith and Adam Smith, to establish a task force on the use of Federal Lands for treatment and therapy through outdoor recreation for Veterans. The health benefits of the outdoors to help our Veteran men and women to walk off the war have long been recognized. We 500,000 members of the VVF applaud this initiative.”