Smith’s 15th veterans bill becomes law…VFW, Sierra Club praised Smith bill
December 8, 2020
Washington, D.C. –Legislation authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to help veterans heal through outdoor recreational therapy has been signed into law by President Trump.
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 136 bipartisan lawmakers—was included in a package of veterans’ legislation, The Veterans’ COMPACT Act (H.R. 8247), which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives in September and was passed unanimously by the Senate last month. Trump signed the legislation over the weekend.
“Research has 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 on Sept. 23.
Upon House passage, many respected veterans and environmental groups praised the bill including New Jersey VFW State Legislative Director William F. Thomson, who said, “Congratulations to Chris Smith on another important piece of veteran legislation.”
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said, “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,” and Rob Vessels, campaign manager of Sierra Club Military Outdoors, said Smith’s bill would help “in eliminating those barriers to access, so veterans can heal on the lands they swore an oath to protect.”
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.
During House debate, Smith recounted how one combat wounded veteran who served in Iraq was suffering severe depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder responded to outdoor therapy. He had made three visits to the VA psychiatric wards and a substance abuse rehab. But it was a backpacking trip led by the Sierra Club that changed his perspective. Smith quoted the vet’s own words: “when the depression, anxiety, and everything else that comes with PTSD creeps back into my life, I know just what to do: Strap on a pack and get outside.’’
Smith’s other veterans bills signed into law: