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  • Writer's pictureDidi Barrett

Assemblymember Barrett Announces Partners on Outdoor Rx Bill to Help Veterans Heal From Trauma

Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Dutchess/Columbia) has announced two new partners in her legislation to make New York State a leader in creating outdoor-based recreational wellness opportunities for veterans, especially those struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges (A.8094-A). Harlem-based Senator Brian Benjamin is sponsoring the bill in the Senate ( S6706-A.)

“This legislation is all about breaking down the barriers that keep veterans and others from accessing the healing and therapeutic benefits of outdoor activity,” said Barrett. “New York State has such a wealth of natural resources and outdoor sites and we should ensure the brave men and women who have fought to protect our nation can tap into these natural treasures to help heal the physical and emotional scars that they too often bring home with them.” 

As chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Barrett has fought to strengthen available services, and the Outdoor Rx Act is another step toward creating a comprehensive approach to veterans’ health. The bill aims to break down barriers to accessing the outdoors -- from ADA accessibility to urban myths about nature, from transportation challenges to education about Lyme disease. Barrett’s bill would facilitate collaboration between state agencies, veterans’ organizations and nonprofits to coordinate the use of public lands to benefit veterans. 

The Sierra Club, a national environmental organization, is supporting the Outdoor Rx legislation through the Sierra Club Military Outdoors campaign. The Sierra Club shares Assemblymember Barrett’s commitment to connecting veterans to the healing benefits of nature and outdoor activities. 

“The transition from active service to healthy and purposeful civilian life can be difficult for many veterans, their families, and their communities,” Lt. Col. (retired) Aaron Leonard, a Sierra Club Military Outdoors Campaign Representative, said. “Studies have confirmed what we know from experience — that getting outside helps improve mental and physical health. By making it easier for New York veterans to access the state’s beautiful outdoor spaces and experience the healing power of nature, New York is serving as a model for other states in their approach to mental and behavioral health and veterans’ wellbeing.”

Outdoor and nature-based activities can have an invaluable therapeutic effect on those struggling with service-related traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or substance use disorder, Barrett noted. In addition to the clear therapeutic benefits, outdoor activity also leads veterans into valuable social situations, which can lead to connections with other services like healthcare, housing, and education benefits. 

Barrett announced her continued push for this legislation at the 17th annual Learn to Ski and Ride event for U.S. veterans injured during active duty at Windham Mountain. The event was part of the Adaptive Sports Foundation’s Warriors in Motion program, which is supported by the Wounded Warrior Project this year. The foundation partnered with Windham Mountain to bring approximately 40 wounded service members and their families to the resort for three days of winter sports activity, fun and relaxation.

Last year, Barrett helped pass a state budget that provided significant funding for mental health services and programs to help veterans successfully re-enter civilian life and access employment opportunities. She also sponsored several bills that were signed into law last year, including measures to let municipalities extend the current disabled veterans property tax exemption to disabled active duty military members (Ch. 479 of 2019), require state agencies to prominently display 55-c eligibility on job postings that are intended to employ disabled veterans (Ch. 486 of 2019) and codify the Division of Veterans’ Services Discharge Upgrade Advisory Board program that helps veterans upgrade discharges that were a result of unfair or discriminatory practices (Ch. 481 of 2019).

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