As America Rediscovers the Outdoors, Congress Looks to Connect More Veterans to Outdoor Recreation

Charles Cooper

The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act is bipartisan legislation that seeks to help eliminate barriers to leveraging public land and outdoor recreation to help veterans heal and recover.

Outdoor recreation is a health and wellness priority for people across the country, transforming the outdoors from just a scenic backdrop for family vacations to something more meaningful for everyone. Studies have helped highlight the science that connects health and nature. For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the outdoors as a means of getting exercise, taking mental health breaks, and escaping from stress and uncertainty around the pandemic. Within policy circles in Washington, DC, there is a growing focus on leveraging the outdoors to help treat veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD.
 
The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act (H.R. 2435) is bipartisan legislation that seeks to help eliminate barriers to leveraging public land and outdoor recreation to help veterans heal and recover. The bill would create a task force co-chaired by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Secretary of the Interior (DoI) to help better facilitate outdoor recreation on public lands for veterans under the care of the VA. The task force is largely comprised of agencies that manage federal lands and those who directly care for veterans and service members.
 
The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act has strong support among Republicans and Democrats in Congress and overwhelming support from veterans organizations, the outdoor industry, environmental non-profits, and conservation groups. The bill was recently granted a hearing in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and many DC observers are hoping the bill will pass and get sent to the President for signature before the end of the year.
 
There are countless non-profits throughout the country with a mission to get more veterans outdoors to bike, fish, hike, kayak, surf, and hunt. They are helping these heroes heal while introducing (or re-introducing) them to outdoor recreation, nature, and public lands and waters. Given the success of these efforts, many are looking to provide VA doctors with an easier path to “prescribe the outdoors” for those under their care and eliminate any logistical hurdles that may stand in the way.
 
When the legislation passes, the Task Force will provide two reports to Congress (one in six months and one in a year) with recommendations around policies that may need to be adjusted to help connect veterans to the outdoors. These recommendations may include the need for additional research, transportation, local coordination between VA hospitals and land managers, or a list of other suggestions. It will be an important step to elevating the importance of this discussion and, hopefully, create a pathway for some of our veterans to have more access to outdoors as part of their treatment.

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