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Act to promote therapeutic use of outdoors for veterans passes
Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors act signed into law Dec. 5

WASHINGTON — A bill signed into law Dec. 5 stands to bring U.S. veterans to the outdoors for healing and recovery.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, and co-sponsor Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) praised the passage of the bill which strives to increase veterans’ access to federal lands for therapeutic use.

“Research has increasingly shown that outdoor recreation can be an effective form of treatment, rehabilitation and healing for veterans,” Smith said.

The new law will require 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.

“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 Smith said, who has twice served as chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Smith’s bill was included in the Veterans’ COMPACT Act, which is a package of veterans’ legislation that will implement new Department of Veterans Affairs programs that address suicide care, mental health education and treatment, health care and the needs of women veterans.

Through the program, the Veterans Administration must carry out a program that shares information regarding assistance and benefits available to veterans. The VA must also pay for emergent suicide care, establish an education program for caregivers and family members; establish a task for the AVROA regarding the use of public lands for veterans’ therapy; promote health exams; educate VA police about suicide; and analyze and report on the needs of women veterans.

During the House floor vote on the measure, Smith recounted the 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 about the veteran. “But, it was a backpacking trip led by the Sierra Club Military Outdoors that changed his entire perspective.”

“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,” Smith said. “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.

The Sierra Club praised the passing of the COMPACT Act.

In response, Sierra Club Military Outdoors campaign manager Rob Vessels released the following statement:

“This is a victory for military veterans and families,” said Rob Vessels, Sierra Club Military Outdoors campaign manager. “For many veterans, the path towards healing from service-related trauma goes through public lands. Today, that path got a little easier. We can celebrate our victory today, but our work does not end here. The outdoors can be a powerful place for healing and respite, and we have high hopes for the task force’s recommendations.”

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