WASHINGTON, DC — Congressman Chris Smith (R-4th District) hailed the recent passage of the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act that would 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 Smith, whose district includes Belmar and Lake Como.

The measure (H.R. 2435) has been endorsed by more than 120 veteran service organizations, including the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as outdoor recreation groups and conservation organizations, such as the New Jersey Sierra Club. Smith garnered broad bipartisan support in the House, with more than135 cosponsors.

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“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.  He added that this is "an important first step in eliminating those barriers to access, so veterans can heal on the lands they swore an oath to protect."

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 (post-traumatic stress syndrome) and he made three visits to VA psychiatric wards and a substance abuse rehab,” Smith relayed. “But. it was a backpacking trip led by the Sierra Club Military Outdoors that changed his entire perspective."

"He (Blake) 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!'" said Smith.

   The task force is empowered 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;
  • 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;
  • 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.

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