OIA in D.C. Notes From The Hill

Honoring Veterans Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

If it weren’t for veterans, the outdoor industry as we know it might not exist today. Think about it: Teddy Roosevelt, one of our nation’s most influential outdoorists, was a veteran. The men who founded the National Ski Patrol and some of our first ski resorts, George Mallory, Doug Peacock, Earl Shaffer — they all served our country before building their respective legacies. They and others before and since credit the outdoors for healing the mental and emotional scars of military service.

“When I came home, I was really suicidal,” recalls Stacy Bare, who served in the Iraq War before becoming the director of the Sierra Club Outdoors and later a brand ambassador for The North Face and founder of Adventure Not War. “A buddy got me out climbing, and that was the trick for me.” Bare’s story is neither unique nor ubiquitous among service men and women returning from combat. That is to say, there are some who have found outdoor therapy programs, but many others are simply not aware that there is a connection between the outdoors and healing.

That’s why, as Veteran’s Day approaches we’re asking OIA members to urge their elected officials in Washington to cosponsor and move legislation to help break down barriers and build bridges for veterans to more easily access nature therapy opportunities. Send a letter to your representatives today.

The Accelerating Veterans Outdoor Act (S. 1256/ H.R. 2435), bipartisan and bicameral legislation introduced in Congress this year aims to make the outdoors more accessible and a more accepted form of therapy. Companion bills introduced in Congress by Senators Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Steve Daines (R-MT) and Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) and Adam Smith (D-WA-9) would establish an interagency task force, more formally connecting the Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Interior, Agriculture, Defense, and Homeland Security. The task force’s main goals are to identify barriers that prevent veterans from accessing outdoor recreation therapy and treatment and to provide recommendations to Congress on how to better facilitate the use of our public lands for treatment.

This task force and its recommendations could result in an important and long-overdue tripartite outcome:

  • Scale effective (and cost-effective) mental-health treatment to millions of veterans,
  • Leverage the U.S. military budget — our nation’s largest line item — for outdoor recreation programs and experiences that, at once, protect public lands and create opportunities for increased access,
  • Grow the community of outdoor enthusiasts and stewards.

There is no shortage of data — empirical and anecdotal — proving the therapeutic value of time in nature. “We as vets have this huge opportunity to share with other people,” says Bare. “People listen to veterans. We have a responsibility to talk about what works for us. Public lands are the physical embodiment of our values in our country and liberty and freedom. If we can share with other people how we’ve healed, that will be shared with other people.” It’s no wonder that Veteran organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America see participation in outdoor pursuits as a vital—and underused—tool to promote healthy physical activity, build community and aid in the recovery from post-traumatic stress.

Member companies are also stepping up, including outdoor retailer REI, which has been strongly advocating for the bill. “Our nation’s veterans have served in uniform in defense of democracy and freedom,” said Eric Artz, REI’s CEO and president. “Generations of these heroes have made great sacrifices to serve the country, and we owe them every possible opportunity for care when they return home. Science and research continue to show that time outdoors has a positive impact on those suffering. Outdoor recreation should be readily accessible for veterans as part of their overall care.”

Our advocacy as an industry can help veterans get back to what restores them. The way to say thank you to a vet is not simply to put a bumper sticker on your car, it’s to give them opportunities to heal and prosper once they are home. Once they have these transformative experiences in nature, they’ll also be more likely to want to protect and maintain our public spaces for the next generation.

Use our Advocacy Center to urge your policymakers in Washington to cosponsor the bill today!.

Happy Trails,

Patricia Rojas-Ungar