Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Raul Ruiz (36th District of California)
Washington D.C. – On Monday, the House of Representatives passed the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act – a bill to guarantee free, lifetime national park passes for all disabled veterans to enjoy over 2,000 federal recreation sites. The legislation, introduced by Dr. Ruiz (CA-36) in the House and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in the Senate, ensures free national parks passes for all veterans with a service-related disability. By increasing veterans’ access to national parks, the legislation would help engage them with nature, which can provide healing and promote physical and mental health.
“This is a great outcome for veterans in our district and across the country,” said Dr. Ruiz. “National parks can connect our veterans with nature and increase their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act will protect free access to these cherished sites for our disabled veterans and improve their overall health. I look forward to seeing the President sign this bill into law to help improve the lives of veterans.”
“We owe our veterans every resource they need to build healthy and happy lives when they come home. The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act is a bipartisan, common-sense bill that will help make good on that effort by amending the law to expand access to our federal lands and parks, free of charge, to veterans living with service-related disabilities.” said Senator Shaheen. “This bill would ensure that our veterans forever have free access to visit these beautiful spaces, which can play an important role in their rehabilitation. I’m pleased the House has passed this legislation and urge the President to sign it into law as soon as possible.”
Ed Robles, the Executive Director of Mission Veteran emphasized the importance for veterans to connect with the outdoors and the natural environment, especially through visits to national parks.
“I strongly support the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act,” Edward Robles, Executive Director of Mission Veteran, said. “As Executive Director of Mission Veteran, a non-profit that works to improve veterans’ mental health and well-being, I can tell you through our experiences that national parks can be healing and beneficial to the health of our veterans. This bill helps veterans by allowing us to engage each other in a healthy natural environment that promotes dialogue, support, and recreation. Most importantly, this bill validates the service of any veteran who has suffered a disability due to service.”
Veterans interested in learning more about the Mission Veteran group can visit missionveteran.org or call 760-883-0266.
The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act would amend the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and clarify that all veterans with a service-connected disability are eligible for a free, lifetime pass for entry to national parks and federal lands. This would include over 2,000 recreation sites managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
A lifetime National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is currently available to any U.S. citizen “who has been medically determined to be permanently disabled” (16 U.SC. 6804). The definition includes “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”(42 U.S.C. 12102). Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, etc. The definition set a relatively high bar for qualification.
The National Park Service currently interprets that authority to include certain disabled veterans. However, there are significant differences between the statutory definitions for ‘permanently disabled’ among civilians and veterans with service-connected injuries under Title 38. Lack of statutory guidance has required the agency to make broad judgements about eligibility for veterans.
The Act would clarify the current statutory language to ensure that all wounded veterans are eligible for free, lifetime access to America’s outdoor recreational treasures.