WASHINGTON, DC – Supporters of Rep. Chris Smith’s (NJ-04) legislation, H.R. 2435, the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, converged on Capitol Hill this week to advocate for the bill, which will provide for increased access to federal lands for the purposes of veterans’ medical therapy.
H.R. 2435 would empower a newly created task force to identify barriers veterans face when accessing public lands for treatment, and provide within one year recommendations to Congress on ways to eliminate those barriers. The legislation would help expose barriers to be overcome and new opportunities to be pursued so that public lands are more available for recreational activities, such as hiking, backpacking, fishing, horseback riding, rafting, and biking, which have proven to advance recuperation and healing. Ultimately HR 2435 will supplement the VA’s major medical care programs with outdoor recreational therapy for military veterans.
“Research has increasingly shown that outdoor recreation can be an effective form of treatment, rehabilitation, and healing for veterans,” said Smith, former two-time Veterans Committee Chairman and author of the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act (P.L. 108-422),. “While many nonprofit organizations, veteran service organizations and private companies have used the outdoors to help heroes heal, providing greater coordination among key agencies will provide new opportunities on public lands and other outdoor spaces.”
Veterans in attendance at the Washington event hosted Tuesday night by the Sierra Club at the House Rayburn Office Building, expressed how the outdoors has personally brought healing and how this legislation is key to expanding programs that will save more veterans’ lives.
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.
“As the former chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have been a long-time supporter of providing veterans with the quality healthcare they deserve, and I believe this bill builds upon holistic medical care and acknowledges the added benefits of outdoor recreation therapy.”
H.R. 2435 has been endorsed by more than 75 veteran service organizations, outdoor recreation groups, and conservation organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, and Minority Veterans of America. It is also supported by the Sierra Club, Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association, Outdoor Research, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
The bill has broad bipartisan support in the House, with over 65 cosponsors. Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) is lead Democratic cosponsor of the legislation.