Response to the Outside Magazine Article, For Veterans, Outdoor Therapy Could Become Law

by

Wes Siler.

https://www.outsideonline.com/2394553/veterans-outdoor-therapy-could-become-law?utm_source=MeatEater+Subscribers&utm_campaign=e4aae5c162-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_05_09_07_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e4b2ec63b4-e4aae5c162-26751771&mc_cid=e4aae5c162&mc_eid=c025e3d44d

For those of who have ever spent any time in the outdoors it is well known that the wilderness has a way of whispering to the soul in a way that little else can.  We know that there is some strong internal urge that seeks out these wild places of refuge for our bodies and our souls. Luckily for veterans and service members across the US, there are members in congress that are looking at the benefits of the outdoors and looking for a way to make the outdoors more accessible as a form of therapy.

Wes Siler, a writer for Outside Magazine, in a recent article talked about H.R. 2435 (H.R. 7138) a bill written by Rep. Chris Smith (R) NJ to propose a task force be created to figure out how to make therapeutic outdoor activities more accessible to veterans, talked about the importance of this bill, and give highlights to an interview he had with a veteran friend about why the outdoors helps heal.  Wes does a good job of giving a high level overview of this bill and what impact it could have on veterans looking to connect with the wilderness.

The initiative by members of congress to make outdoor programming an accessible therapeutic option is a great step in the right direction.  The bill gives clear but vague directions to the task force that the bill would create. It talks about identifying opportunities for coordination among federal agencies, identifying barriers that prevent veterans from pursuing outdoor therapy on federal lands, making recommendations for better use of federal lands for veteran therapy, encouraging consultation with current veteran outdoor recreation groups, and asking for reports on the findings of the task force.

While H.R. 7138 is a step in the right direction it could go much further.  The studying of these issues is important but this bill needs more teeth so that action can be taken after the studies are over.  The studies will reveal the importance of these kinds of programs since there are hundreds of studies out there that emphasize the power of outdoor therapy.  It will also be interesting to see what the task force discovers in regards to how the federal government can make access to federal lands more open for veterans programs.

Hundreds of studies and thousands of veterans and service members can attest to the importance of these kids of outdoor programs.  Most of the outdoor programs for veterans in the US are located in the southern or western parts of the US where they enjoy more state and local support and large swaths of federal land.  HR 7138 proposes that the task force look for way to make federal land more accessible for outdoor programming for veterans. This kind of therapeutic outdoor programming is important for any veteran that wants to participate but the focus on making federal land more accessible overlooks local, state, and private lands that should be considered too.

It is a well known fact that the government is often very slow to act and react in a timely manner, in fact, the government is often very far behind programs and initiatives that need its support.  There are hundreds of veterans outdoor nonprofit organizations that are currently working to get veterans in the outdoors. They have found ways to raise funds, they are creative, they are committed to serving veterans, and they need help and support from the government at all levels.  Rep. Chris Smith and the other supporters of HR 7138 should invite these nonprofits to have a seat at the table to help craft legislation that will make this access possible across the country and to find a way to help support the nonprofits that are already doing this work.

It is exciting to see that the federal government is finally recognizing the benefits of the outdoors in a therapeutic manner for veterans and service members.  It is encouraging to see that they want to find a way to grant more access for programs taking veterans to the outdoors. One can only hope that they will expand the scope of this task force investigation to include options for local, state, and private land.  It would be great to see the federal government invite the nonprofits that are already doing this work into the conversation so that they can tell the government what they need for support.

If the goal is really to help improve the lives of the men and women who have served this country then the government should leave no stone unturned in its efforts to make outdoor programming readily available and accessible to all veterans and service members across the country.