The Senate has approved legislation that will allow veterans with service-connected disabilities free lifetime entry to all 419 national parks in the United States.
The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act was authored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and passed by the Senate. It now needs approval from the House of Representatives before taking effect. The new bill would amend the current eligibility standards and allow millions of more veterans free access to parks and national land attractions.
“The brave men and women who have served in our military and have been wounded defending our nation should have free access to our national parks and recreational areas — the American land they fought to protect,” said Senator Collins.
Senator Jon Tester ( D-MT), the top-ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who for years has been pushing the agenda for freer access to national parks for veterans, was thrilled with the news.
“This bill makes our most treasured, beautiful places in Montana and across the country freely available to our country’s disabled veterans,” he said.
Under the current law that was enacted in 2004, veterans who have been deemed 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs are granted a free, lifetime National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
About 25 percent of the nations 4.7 million veterans have a service-connected disability according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, as of 2019, at least 2.7 million of those veterans had a disability rating of at least 60 percent.
Proponents of the legislation, as well as therapists, state that veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD have greatly benefitted from spending time in nature.
“Recreation in our national parks and public lands can be a valuable healing tool for veterans living with physical and emotional wounds as a result of their service,” Sen. Tester said. “I’ll continue fighting to make sure our legislation crosses the finish line in Congress.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), who introduced the bill in the House in November has also pushed hard for its passage. Ruiz was an Emergency Room Doctor in California before being elected to Congress in 2012. In 2010, the 82nd Airborne Division awarded him the Commander’s Award for Public Service for his work as the Medical Director for the J/P Haitian Relief Organization after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
“National parks can connect our veterans with nature and increase their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being,” Ruiz said last fall.
Ruiz has been heavily involved in getting the proper medical care for those that were stationed at the K2 military base in Uzbekistan as well as the burn pits during the early days (2001-2005) of the war in Afghanistan.