WASHINGTON, DC: Today, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans’ (VA-02) bipartisan Military and Veterans in Parks (MVP) Act passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources as a part of the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act. Congressman Scott Peters (CA-50) joined Congresswoman Kiggans to introduce the legislation. The bill now waits to be scheduled for consideration on the House Floor.
The MVP Act aims to improve veterans’ physical and mental health by increasing their access to outdoor recreational activities in National Parks and federal lands. Specifically, the legislation would direct the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Parks Service to each develop adaptive trails and campgrounds in the regions they manage – as well as accessible hunting, fishing, and kayaking opportunities.
“I’m excited that my bipartisan bill to help disabled Americans access our beautiful National Parks is one step closer to getting a vote on the House Floor! Our parks can play an important role in the rehabilitation of those who have served in our military, healing both the visible and invisible wounds of war,” said Congresswoman Kiggans. “Unfortunately, lack of accessible trails, activities, and lodging often prevent disabled Americans – particularly veterans – from enjoying all our parks have to offer. As a Navy veteran and primary care provider, I understand the positive impact of outdoor activity and am determined to provide our veterans with every resource they need to build healthy, happy lives!”
The MVP Act is endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, PeopleForBikes, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, REI Co-op, Blackhawk, and Stone Glacier.
Nearly five million veterans – or 27% of all former servicemembers – live with a service-connected disability. While outdoor activity has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, and reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, National Parks often lack adequate accessible trails, activities, and lodging for those with disabilities. The MVP Act takes concrete steps to ensure that these – and other – federal lands are accessible to disabled Americans. Specifically, it would:
- Direct the Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Park Service (NPS) to each develop at least one adaptive trail in each of the regions they manage. Adaptive trails are trails designed to allow access to individuals with physical disabilities, including wounded warriors;
- Direct the agencies to also develop new adaptive recreation opportunities in each of their regions. These can include more accessible campgrounds, hunting and fishing opportunities, or recreation activities like skiing or kayaking. This also allows the agencies to enter into partnerships to rent adaptive equipment to wounded warriors for improved recreation access;
- Create an inventory of existing adaptive recreation opportunities and directs that information be made available online;
- Direct the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to spread awareness and educational materials about outdoor recreation opportunities for veterans;
- Promote partnerships with State, Tribal, local, and non-profit organizations to host veterans recreation events on public lands and provide assistance to these entities to assist with the planning and execution of these events;
- Direct the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to develop a national strategy to increase recreation visits to federal lands by veterans, members of the Armed Forces, and Gold Star Families;
- Add veterans organizations to Recreation Resource Advisory Committees, and;
- Encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) to hire veterans in recreation-focused positions while expanding programs to recruit and train members of the Armed Forces and veterans as volunteers on public lands.
The full text of the MVP Act is available here.