The benefits of outdoor recreational therapy for veterans took center stage last week in Washington, D.C., as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke hosted a meeting with veteran service organizations about making public lands more accessible to veterans.
More than 20 veteran advocates—including Rivers of Recovery’s own Amy Simon—shared their ideas to help the Department of the Interior improve veteran access to public lands.
“Hunting and fishing present such an incredible healing opportunity for our veterans who return home with physical and emotional wounds,” Secretary Zinke said. “Unfortunately, many of our public lands are either inaccessible to individuals with various physical disabilities, or we just don’t offer programs to encourage veterans to access and use them. I want these warriors to be able to return home from their service and enjoy the very lands they fought to protect.”
Firsthand Experience with Combat Veterans
With more than 10 years of supporting combat veterans through our fly fishing programs, the Rivers of Recovery team was eager to share experiences—and insight—into the benefits of outdoor recreation to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury and other combat-related injuries.
“We know it works,” Amy Simon said. “Sharing our firsthand experience with government leaders was a great opportunity to advocate for our wounded warriors and work towards helping as many veterans as possible.”
Attendees heard personal accounts from Army Green Beret John Wayne Walding and Benghazi warrior Mark “Oz” Geist. Walding spoke of the first hunt he took in Alaska after having his leg amputated, which proved to be the motivational force for him to reenter the military and return to duty. Geist spoke about the bond developed between him and his WWII veteran father while hunting on Colorado public lands.
Reaching More Veterans
The discussion sparked a lot of interest among the government officials, who are in a unique position to assist organizations like Rivers of Recovery with their mission to reach as many veterans as possible.
“Using outdoor recreation to heal both the physical and invisible wounds of war is gaining support from all sectors,” said Mitch Butler, Rivers of Recovery chair. “It helps vets strengthen their personal relationships and reconnect with their communities. It’s easy to see why it’s so important to improve access to public lands and help veterans with battlefield injuries.”
The roundtable discussion was held as part of “National Hunting and Fishing Month,” and included leaders from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other Department of Interior bureaus.