Legislation requires State Division of Veteran's Services to review issues relating to veterans' ability to access state parks, lands & facilities
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed the Outdoor Rx Act (S.6706A/A.8094A) requiring the New York State Division of Veteran's Services to review issues relating to veterans' ability to access state parks, lands and facilities. The Outdoor Rx Act is the first step in identifying how New York state can better address the needs of veterans adjusting back to civilian life through outdoor activity. This legislation takes effect immediately.
"After dedicating their lives to the safety and security of our nation, returning service members should be welcomed home not only with gratitude and admiration, but with support and care to assist with their assimilation back to civilian life," Cuomo said. "Access to the outdoor-based therapies can be crucial for many veterans suffering from PTSD or substance abuse issues. I am proud that New York state is working to make it as simple as possible for our veterans to receive the help and care they need."
Recent studies have shown that time outdoors can be a valuable asset to traditional therapy. Outdoor-based therapeutic programs hold promise for individuals suffering from PTSD and substance abuse disorder. Under the act, the director of the Division of Veteran's Services, in consultation with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and Office of Mental Health will review:
√ The barriers to provide veterans with increased access to state lands and nature-based therapies. This includes transportation, handicap accessibility, cultural and mental health stigmas;
√ Current state policies regarding free and discounted access to state parks, lands and recreational facilities by veterans and their families;
√ Opportunities to formalize coordination between the Division of Veteran's Services, other state agencies and partner organizations;
√ State lands, based on veterans' demographics, including service-connected disabled veterans, which should be prioritized for access;
√ Following consultation with appropriate veterans' outdoor recreation groups, recommendations to reduce barriers and better facilitate the use of state-owned and managed lands for access and nature-based therapy; and
√ Estimated costs of implementing recommendations and expanding access and benefits.
New York State Sen. Brian Benjamin said, "Our freedom to enjoy New York's natural beauty in peace and security is predicated on the dedicated service of those New Yorkers who serve in our nation's military. It is only fitting that New York's natural resources give back to those who have given so much, and so I am proud to sponsor this bill with Assembly member Barrett, which will explore how our State Parks can be a part of the healing process for soldiers coming back home. Thank you, Gov. Cuomo, for signing this important bill."
Assembly member Didi Barrett said, "We have all learned firsthand this year the tremendous therapeutic value of nature and outdoor activities for both mental and physical wellbeing. This legislation will make New York state, which is blessed with spectacular natural resources – parks, trails, rivers, lakes and more – a leader in recognizing what outdoor recreation means to veterans with mental and physical limitations, and to lowering barriers to access for veterans and military families everywhere."
State Parks oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails and boat launches, which were visited by a record 77 million people in 2019.