Kiggans’ Military and Veterans Act passed by U.S. House of Representatives

April 13, 2024
 |
Congresswoman Jen Kiggans

Today, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans’ (VA-02) bipartisan Military and Veterans in Parks (MVP) Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives 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 heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The MVP Act aims to improve disabled veterans’ physical and mental health by increasing their access to outdoor recreation activities in National Parks and on federal lands. Specifically, the legislation would direct the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Park Service (NPS) to develop adaptive trails and campgrounds in the regions they manage – as well as accessible hunting, fishing, and kayaking opportunities.

“As the wife of a veteran, the mother of future veterans, and a former Navy helicopter pilot myself, I have made it my mission since day one to advocate for the mental health of our servicemembers and veterans,” said Congresswoman Kiggans. “As a primary care provider, I know the connection between outdoor recreation and improved mental health outcomes cannot be denied. I’m proud to see the House pass my bill to help disabled Americans, especially our veterans, access all the beautiful National Parks and other outdoor recreation sites our nation has to offer. I will always fight to provide our veterans with the resources and tools they need to build healthy, happy lives!”

“America will never be able to fully repay our debt of gratitude to our veterans and their families who fought for our freedom, but with the passage of the Military and Veterans in Parks (MVP) Act as part of the EXPLORE Act today, Congress is making it easier for those who served to get outdoors and recreate on our nation’s federal lands and waters,” said Congressman Bruce Westerman, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “As a veteran herself, Representative Kiggans has been a faithful advocate for these issues and knows firsthand the impacts the MVP Act will have on her fellow brothers and sisters who served. I am proud to have been able to help her in these efforts and look forward to helping her pass it into law.”

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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 USFS, BLM, and NPS each to 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 make that information 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 these entities with planning and execution assistance for these events;
  • Direct the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to develop a national strategy to increase recreation on 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 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. The full text of the legislation is available here.

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