Legislation by Congressman Ruiz Would Give All Disabled Veterans Lifetime Passes to National Parks
Washington D.C. – Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) announced the introduction of legislation that would give all disabled veterans free, lifetime national park passes to enjoy over 2,000 federal recreation sites. H.R. 4930, the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act, would amend current law to extend eligibility for lifetime national parks passes to all wounded veterans at no cost, regardless of disability rating. By giving veterans increased access to national parks, the legislation would help engage them with the natural environment, which can provide healing and promote physical and mental health.
"National parks can connect our veterans with nature and increase their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being,” said Dr. Raul Ruiz. “Through the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act, we will expand the opportunity for our disabled veterans to visit these cherished sites and improve their overall health. I look forward to working to pass this bipartisan legislation, which would heal and improve the lives of our veterans.
On Sunday, Congressman Ruiz hiked the Cottonwood Spring Trail at Joshua Tree National Park with Ed Robles, the Executive Director of Mission Veteran and local veteran, Daniel Zamora. During the hike, they emphasized the importance for veterans to connect with the outdoors and the natural environment, especially through visits to national parks like Joshua Tree.
“I strongly support the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act,” Edward Robles, Executive Director of Mission Veteran, said. “As Executive Director of Mission Veteran, a non-profit that works directly with veterans through retreats in areas within national parks, I can tell you through our experiences that it can be healing and beneficial for veterans. These are the lands veterans have defended through service – it should not matter whether they are 100% or 10%, they should have access to these parks. By removing this barrier, Veterans can find outlets to support each other, through programs like Mission Veteran and other non-profits and can engage each other in a healthy natural environment that promotes dialogue, support, and recreation. Most importantly it is a way for community and elected officials to validate the service of any veteran who has suffered a disability due to service.”
Veterans interested in learning more about the Mission Veteran group can visit missionveteran.org or call 760-883-0266.
The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act would amend the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and make all veterans with a service-connected disability eligible for a free, lifetime pass for entry to national parks and federal lands. This would include over 2,000 recreation sites managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
A lifetime National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is currently available to any U.S. citizen “who has been medically determined to be permanently disabled” (16 U.SC. 6804). The definition includes “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”(42 U.S.C. 12102). Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, etc. The definition sets a relatively high bar for qualification.
The National Park Service currently interprets that authority to include certain disabled veterans. However, there are significant differences between the statutory definitions for ‘permanently disabled’ among civilians and veterans with service-connected injuries under Title 38. Lack of statutory guidance has required the agency to make broad judgements about eligibility for veterans.
The Act would clarify the current statutory language to ensure that all wounded veterans are eligible for free, lifetime access to America’s outdoor recreational treasures.