Eric Artz: America’s Veterans Deserve the Healing Power of Time Outdoors

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As CEO of an outdoor company, a veteran and someone who prioritizes time outdoors in my own life, I am keenly aware of the importance of time in nature for health and healing. The many crises of 2020 have seen more people turn to the outdoors than ever before, many for the first time, and the health benefits are both clear and scientifically proven.

No one deserves the solace and healing that can be found in nature more than those who have sacrificed everything for our country. We must help connect more of our service people to the restorative power of the outdoors, and the Senate can make this happen by passing the bipartisan Veterans COMPACT Act, which includes a chapter on Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors. This COMPACT Act, which focuses on veterans’ mental health and well-being, recently passed the U.S. House unanimously and awaits action in the Senate.

Our vets have served to defend democracy and freedom. Generations of heroes have sacrificed everything to protect that which we hold dear. We owe them every possible opportunity for treatment and care when they return home.

Science and research continue to prove that time in nature can and does have a positive impact on those suffering. REI has supported some of that research at universities like Cal Berkeley, UCSF, the University of Washington and Harvard, and it all leads back to a simple, powerful conclusion: outdoor recreation must be more accessible for veterans as part of their overall care, especially those being treated for mental health challenges like PTSD.

The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act would create a federal task force to facilitate coordination among agencies caring for our vets and agencies managing our public lands. The task force would identify barriers and provide Congress recommendations on how to improve cross-agency collaboration in connecting vets to the outdoors.

We all view time in nature through our own experiences. Many Americans know the outdoors, especially our public lands and waters, as awe-inspiring places—as places to build memories while hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping and more. This has become all the more important as we collectively navigate a global pandemic and have, en masse, turned to the outdoors for health and solace.

It is essential that the outdoor places we love become a more widely used treatment venue for the Americans who have fought for this country. We must prioritize eliminating barriers for those who could use our public spaces to heal.

The outdoor community has been the beneficiary of important, bipartisan leadership around policy for public lands—most recently passing the Great American Outdoors Act this year. I ask these same committed leaders to take another important step and pass the COMPACT Act in order to provide veterans with the care they critically need, including access to the outdoors.

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