Smith veterans bill passes House—would create new ‘Task Force’ to promote use public lands for medical treatment & therapy to vets via outdoor recreation
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the bipartisan Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act (H.R. 2435) with lead Democrat co-sponsor Adam Smith of (D-WA), hailed the passage today of the bill which will provide increased access to federal lands for the purposes of veterans’ medical therapy.
“Research has increasingly shown that outdoor recreation can be an effective form of treatment, rehabilitation, and healing for veterans. While many nonprofit organizations, veteran service organizations, and private companies have used the outdoors to help heroes heal, providing greater coordination among key federal agencies will open new opportunities for veterans on public lands and other outdoor spaces,” said Chris Smith, author of the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act (P.L. 108-422), and 13 other veterans laws. “The legislation requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish an interagency task force on the use of public lands to provide medical treatment and therapy to veterans through outdoor recreation. After undertaking a comprehensive analysis, the task force will submit recommendations to Congress, within one year, on how to eliminate barriers and provide more public outdoor space for use by our veterans.”
Smith’s bill was included in a package of veterans’ legislation—The Veterans’ COMPACT Act, (H.R. 8247)—which passed in a unanimous voice vote. Rep. Adam Smith is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Chris Smith served two times as chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
On the House floor today (PICTURED), Rep. Chris Smith thanked Sierra Club for its leadership, and his 130-plus colleagues who cosponsored his bill, including Adam Smith. He recounted the true story of a veteran suffering from PTSD, and his positive encounter with nature.
“By the time he was 20, Blake was suffering severe depression, anxiety and PTSD and he made three visits to VA psychiatric wards and a substance abuse rehab,” Smith said. “But it was a backpacking trip led by the Sierra Club Military Outdoors that changed his entire perspective. He reports that ‘in every Texas sunrise in the desert or a sunset next to an alpine lake, I found more beauty and serenity than I thought existed. I found camaraderie with my other veterans in sharing our stories on the trail. The darkness of what I had experienced couldn’t compare to the light I saw in watching a trout swim in the Merced River with Half Dome looming nearby. And when the depression, anxiety and everything else that comes with PTSD creeps back into my life, I know just what do…strap on a pack and get outside!”
H.R. 2435 has been endorsed by more than 120 veteran service organizations, outdoor recreation groups, and conservation organizations. Smith garnered broad bipartisan support in the House, with over 135 cosponsors.
Said New Jersey VFW State Legislative Director William F. Thomson, “Congratulations to Chris Smith on another important piece of veteran legislation. Congressman Smith has been a three-time recipient of the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislator of the Year award and National Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislator of the Year award. He has always shown that veterans are important to him and our nations. He is one of the New Jersey Veterans best friends in Congress.”
Said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “For the people who have given their all for this country, we need to do all we can to help them. That includes access to National Parks and outdoor activities. The outdoors experience has restorative powers, whether you are hiking, mountain biking, camping, or communing with nature. It helps to inspire us and heals our body and spirit. Connecting with nature and being in the wilderness is a powerful part of healing, and the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act will help veterans access that power. My dad was a WWII veteran who was at the Bulge and many other battles. He was also a Sierra Club member for over 40 years. He became an avid hiker and outdoor person when he came back, which helped him deal with everything he went through. It also helped bond us together through an appreciation of nature.”
“Our public lands are places for respite and healing, but for many veterans, those landscapes remain out of reach,” said Rob Vessels, campaign manager of Sierra Club Military Outdoors. “Today’s vote is an important first step in eliminating those barriers to access, so veterans can heal on the lands they swore an oath to protect. We thank Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Adam Smith for their work on this critical issue.”
The task force is empowered:
- First, to identify opportunities to formalize coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs, public land agencies, and partner organizations regarding the use of public lands or other outdoor spaces for health and wellness for veterans;
- Second, to identify barriers that exist to providing veterans with opportunities for health and wellness through the use of outdoor recreation on public lands or other outdoor spaces;
- And third, to develop recommendations to better facilitate the use of public lands or other outdoor spaces for promoting wellness and facilitating the delivery of health care and therapy for veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and 12 percent of those who served in Desert Storm have PTSD in a given year, and 30 percent of those who served in Vietnam will have had PTSD in their lifetime.