Legislation authored by Congressman Chris Smith that would expand the access to federal lands for the purposes of veterans’ medical therapy passed in the House of Representatives yesterday as part of a package of veterans legislation, the Veterans’ COMPACT Act.
New Jersey’s Veterans and Environmental leadership applauded the legislation and Rep Smith’s leadership.
“Congratulations to Chris Smith on another important piece of veteran legislation,” said William F. Thomson, New Jersey VFW State Legislative Director. “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 nation. 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.”
The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create an “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,” Rep Chris Smith said during the debate on the bill.
The task force is empowered:
- First, 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;
- Second, to 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;
- And third, to 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.