Kiggans Introduces Bill to Increase Access to National Parks for Disabled Veterans

WASHINGTON, DC: Today, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (VA-02) and Congressman Scott Peters (CA-50) introduced the Military and Veterans in Parks (MVP) Act. 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.

“National Parks can play an important role in the rehabilitation of those who have served in our military, helping heal 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 treasured 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. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill and am confident it will allow our heroes to enjoy all that our beautiful National Parks have to offer!”

“As we approach Veterans Day, we are reminded of the great sacrifices of our servicemembers and their families and the debt we owe them,” said Rep. Peters. “This long weekend our wounded warriors should be able to enjoy the great outdoors like every other American, but unfortunately there are too few accessible trails and activities and the ones that do exist are not well publicized. Our MVP Act creates more opportunities for veterans and others with physical disabilities to fully partake in the wonderful recreational opportunities our national forests and federal lands have to offer.”

“While we can never fully repay our servicemen and women for their sacrifices to our country, we can always work to improve their lives and their access to our public lands,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman. “Many of our veterans and servicemembers take advantage of outdoor recreational opportunities as part of recovery and treatment for conditions like PTSD. I can think of no better way to honor our heroes this Veteran’s Day than by the introduction of the Military and Veterans in Parks Act, which will increase these opportunities and continue our steadfast support for those who serve. As a veteran herself, Rep. Kiggans knows the importance of these issues. I’d like to thank her for her leadership on this legislation, and I look forward to moving it through the House Committee on Natural Resources.”

“Wounded Warrior Project strongly believes that accessible outdoor recreation can be a significant benefit to disabled veterans’ mental and physical health and wellbeing. That is why we are proud to support the MVP Act, which will increase the number of accessible trails and recreational opportunities on our nation’s public lands and promote the use of those opportunities among the military and veteran community,” said Jose Ramos, Vice President of Government and Community Relations, Wounded Warrior Project. “Additional provisions to create new employment opportunities for veterans in conservation and resource management will also help address financial wellness in the wounded warrior community. We thank Representative Kiggans for introducing the MVP Act and urge additional support throughout Congress.”

“Off-highway vehicle recreation provides important opportunities for veterans and others to access the outdoors which can be therapeutic for individuals of all levels of physical ability,” said Duane Taylor, Director, Safe and Responsible Use Programs, Motorcycle Industry Council, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association. “The powersports industry supports the MVP Act which would create new recreational opportunities for returning service members and others dealing with challenges.”

“At PeopleForBikes, we believe in the healing nature of being outdoors and the many important benefits to health and wellness they afford. Being in nature can be vital for America’s veterans,” said Jenn Dice, CEO, PeopleForBikes. “The MVP Act will make our public lands more accessible and provide people with disabilities both the infrastructure and the resources within federal agencies to get outside.”

“America’s veterans and the disability community deserve more opportunities to access our public lands and waters for the many benefits outdoor recreation provides,” said Jessica Turner, President of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The MVP Act creates an innovative pilot program to develop accessible trails and we appreciate the hard work of the bill’s sponsors and the House Natural Resources Committee for this important legislation.”

“For military Veterans living with combat-related injuries or post-traumatic stress, quality time outside supports trauma recovery, overall well-being, and the transition back to civilian life,” said Eric Artz, President and CEO, REI Co-op. “The Military Veterans in Parks Act will help reduce barriers to accessing the healing power of nature through the development of accessible recreation infrastructure. Building adaptive trails will not only help connect more of our Veterans to our public lands but ensure our public lands are accessible for all outdoor enthusiasts.”

“Blackhawk and Stone Glacier proudly support our military and law enforcement leaders while in the field, and we’re even prouder to support them when they come home,” said Jeff Sposito, Brand Leader of Blackhawk and Stone Glacier. “The MVP Act will connect more veterans with our public lands and the transformative effects of being in the wild. We urge bipartisan action to get this bill signed into law without delay.” 

BACKGROUND

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.

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