Empowering Veterans Through Outdoor Recreation
By: PeopleForBikes Staff
UPDATE: In September 2020, amid hyper-partisan divide and national unrest, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act as part of a broader package addressing veterans' health and well-being. PeopleForBikes, along with our partners in recreation and veterans' advocacy, are pushing to move this bill through the Senate and signed into law before the end of the year.
New legislation seeks to increase outdoor access for veterans.
We owe our nation’s veterans every possible path to recovery from the wounds they suffer during active duty. In many cases, those treatments should extend beyond what’s provided within the walls of a hospital.
Last month, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced the Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act. The legislation comes on the heels of an increasing number of studies (like this 2013 report by the Sierra Club) showing a strong link between outdoor recreation and healing. Research also supports that our nation’s veterans — especially those recently returning from war — could benefit from treatment that includes outdoor recreation.
“Outdoor recreation such as hunting and fishing provides camaraderie and healing for veterans who struggle with the wounds of war…. This bill would ensure barriers to accessing outdoor activities that assist veterans are evaluated and removed if needed.”
— Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Service Director Carlos Fuentes.
A number of programs and nonprofits are already working to connect veterans to cycling and other outdoor activities. Through establishing an interagency task force, the Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act will take the additional steps needed to identify any existing barriers that prevent veterans from more broadly utilizing outdoor recreation for medical treatment — such as public lands access and hurdles within the research and medical community.
The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs will chair the task force and be joined by representatives from other agencies, including the Department of Defense, Army Corps of Engineers and Agriculture Department.
“An overwhelming majority of military families report that visiting parks provides a much-needed outlet from the stress of their daily lives…. 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.”
— Kathy Roth-Douquet, Founder and CEO of Blue Star Families
In announcing the bill, Rep. Smith described how outdoor access is proven to have a positive impact on mental health and physical wellbeing — and that his constituents in Washington state are closely acquainted with the benefits of spending time in nature. “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,” Smith said.
PeopleForBikes has worked with the sponsors and industry partners on this important legislation, and we look forward to continued work to help this bill move through the legislative process.
This bill has been widely endorsed by outdoor recreation and veterans advocacy groups, including Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blue Star Families, Vet Voice Foundation, Minority Veterans of America, Outdoor Alliance and Outdoor Industry Association.