A Year of Trials and Hope for Military Outdoors

One year ago, I wrote about the unexpected challenges we saw in 2020. Unfortunately, many of those challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to social injustice, to the climate crisis, remain the major issues affecting every one of us. Yet despite these trials, we also saw signs of hope, especially in the work of our own Military Outdoors campaign.

The transition from active-duty military service to life in the civilian world can be challenging, and trauma experienced during service can make that transition even harder for veterans and their families. Sierra Club Military Outdoors is working to ensure all veterans, active-duty service members, and military families can heal in nature from service-related trauma. This year saw some significant victories thanks to the work of our campaign, congressional champions, partner organizations, and our dedicated volunteers and supporters. 

Let’s take a look.

  • This year, Military Outdoors launched a partnership with Y-USA to create opportunities for veterans to experience healing in nature in their own communities. By partnering with Y-USA and Sierra Club volunteers in four focus cities, our Military Outdoors program was able to connect more members of the military and veteran community with the outdoors than our staff ever could on our own. After successful outings in Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and San Antonio, we’re planning to expand our partnership with the YMCA to additional locations in 2022 and beyond, bringing these essential resources to more veterans and their families.
  • We also saw our efforts in New York State continue to bear fruit. New York’s Outdoor Rx Task Force, co-chaired by Military Outdoors Senior Campaign Representative Aaron Leonard, released a groundbreaking report on promoting veterans’ mental and physical health through outdoor therapy. The report stemmed from New York’s passage of the Outdoor Rx Act in 2020, of which our campaign was a key champion. Its recommendations include expanding nature-based therapy and programming for veterans and adjusting or eliminating entrance fees to state parks and public lands to allow for greater access to the outdoors. We’re looking forward to continuing our work in New York to ensure these recommendations turn into actions. 
  • And just last month, a group of nearly 30 nonprofits, Veterans Service Organizations, and other allies, including Sierra Club, launched the Military Outdoors Coalition. This new group is working to raise awareness of veterans health issues and to collaborate on expanding veterans’ access to the outdoors for healing purposes. The coalition is off to a fast start adding more members every week, and establishing vital connections with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At Military Outdoors, we’ve seen firsthand the positive effects spending time in nature can have for veterans and their families. For them, the outdoors not only offers a chance to heal from trauma, but it also offers them the chance to turn those experiences into advocacy. Our efforts to dismantle barriers and expand access to nature will continue into 2022, and we hope you will join us in this work.

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