Smith’s outdoor therapy vets bill clears Senate
Will create federal ‘Task Force’ to promote use of public lands for medical treatment & therapy for PTSD vets via outdoor recreation
WASHINGTON, DC – On the eve of the Veterans’ Day holiday, legislation authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to help veterans heal through outdoor recreational therapy cleared the Senate and was on its way to the President’s desk for signing and implementation.
Smith’s bipartisan Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act (H.R. 2435), which was endorsed by more than 120 veteran service organizations, outdoor recreation groups and conservation organizations, will provide increased access to federal lands for the purposes of veterans’ medical recovery therapy. Smith’s bill—cosponsored by 135 bipartisan lawmakers—was included in a package of veterans’ legislation, The Veterans’ COMPACT Act (H.R. 8247), which passed the House of Representatives in September and was approved by the Senate late last night.
“Research has increasingly shown that outdoor recreation can be an effective form of treatment, rehabilitation and healing for veterans,” said Smith, author of the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act (P.L. 108-422), and 13 other veterans laws.
“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, who has twice served as chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
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.” Click here to watch Chris Smith’s remarks on the House Floor.
“Nearly 75 years ago, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed a law changing Nov. 11 from Armistice Day to Veterans Day,” Smith said. “It’s a day for us all to recall those who’ve served, those who didn’t come home and those who came back with the scars of war who need help to heal. That’s what this bill is all about, and it is especially fitting that today, on Veterans Day 2020, this bill is heading to the White House to be signed into law.”
Veterans and environmental groups praised the bill upon House passage and pushed for Senate approval as well.
Said New Jersey VFW State Legislative Director William F. Thomson: “Congratulations to Chris Smith on another important piece of veteran legislation. Congressman Smith has been a three-time recipient of the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislator of the Year award and National Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislator of the Year award. He has always shown that veterans are important to him and our nations. He is one of the New Jersey Veterans best friends in Congress.”
Said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “For the people who have given their all for this country, we need to do all we can to help them. That includes access to National Parks and outdoor activities. The outdoors experience has restorative powers, whether you are hiking, mountain biking, camping, or communing with nature. It helps to inspire us and heals our body and spirit. Connecting with nature and being in the wilderness is a powerful part of healing, and the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act will help veterans access that power. My dad was a WWII veteran who was at the Bulge and many other battles. He was also a Sierra Club member for over 40 years. He became an avid hiker and outdoor person when he came back, which helped him deal with everything he went through. It also helped bond us together through an appreciation of nature.”
“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. “Today’s vote is an important first step in eliminating those barriers to access, so veterans can heal on the lands they swore an oath to protect. We thank Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Adam Smith for their work on this critical issue.”
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, 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.
PHOTO: On the House floor Sept. 23, Rep. Chris Smith thanked Sierra Club for its leadership, and his 130-plus colleagues who cosponsored his bill, including Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA). He recounted the true story of a veteran suffering from PTSD, and his positive encounter with nature.
Smith’s other veterans bills signed into law:
- H.R.4511 – Gold Star Families Voices Act of 2016
- HR 4175 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2004
- HR 2297 – Veterans Benefits Act of 2003
- HR 1683 Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2003
- HR 100 Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003
- HR 4085 Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2002
- HR 3838 – To amend the charter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars
- HR 3447 – Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001
- HR 3253 – Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Act of 2002 11/7/02
- HR 2716 – Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001
- HR 2540 – Veterans’ Compensation Rate Amendments of 2001
- HR 1291 – Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001
- HR 801 – Veterans’ Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001
- HJRes 65 – Commending the World War II veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge