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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced to the United States Congress is seeking to establish a task force to help veterans use outdoor recreation on federal lands for medical treatment and post-traumatic stress disorder therapy.
Studies have shown, "and veterans strongly concur" that "outdoor recreational activities can provide powerful therapeutic and healing benefits, as well as camaraderie, for veterans struggling with combat-related injuries or post-traumatic stress," Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who originated the bill, HR7138, said in a statement reported by Outside Online.
"We should be thinking outside-the-box to discover as many ways as possible to help veterans, and opening up federal lands and removing barriers to access for remedial outdoor recreation is a no-brainer."
The bill designates a task force that will investigate the best ways to use public lands and outdoor recreation to treat veterans for various physical and mental ailments, including PTSD, following their duty in the armed services. The hope is that these treatment options will someday be standardized.
The task force will include the secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Interior, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Defense, the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, and any other members the secretary of Veterans Affairs believes would be a good fit.
The National Center for PTSD reported an estimated 11-20 percent of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in the Middle East experience PTSD in any given year. An additional 12 percent of Gulf War veterans reportedly have the condition, and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives.
More and more studies analyze and quantify the benefits of outdoor recreation for veterans with PTSD. With more than 7.7 million adults with PTSD in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, these studies and their potential implications for treatment could impact many people.
Outdoor recreation has been found to not only be an effective treatment, but it also carries less stigma than other forms of therapy, according to a study looking at the effects of a wilderness program on veterans' mental health. As a result, experts believe it may be more likely to be accepted as a treatment option among veterans. Even better? It may actually save patients money as outdoor recreation is cheaper than psychiatric care, according to veteran who formerly suffered from PTSD, Stacy Bare.
Bare, a veteran who told Outside Online that outdoor recreation as a treatment saved his life, said one veteran he knew saw the amount of money the Department of Veteran Affairs was investing in his treatment drop from $25,000 to $5,000 per year when he took up rock climbing.
“We know the outdoors is good for you,” REI CEO Jerry Strizke said in an REI article. “It’s only right that we make it as easy as possible for our veterans to rejuvenate among the country’s natural wonders.”
Smith added in a news release: “Our military service men and women deserve support in every way, and we should explore all avenues, great and small, of providing care and treatment for them. My legislation would help expand access to federal lands for outdoor recreation and should be part of our comprehensive response — a small part, but an important one nevertheless — in veteran care.”
If the bill passes, the secretary of Veterans Affairs will have 180 days after approval to establish a task force.