A new benefit for veterans: The Great Outdoors

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For this Veterans Day, state lawmakers approved new benefits for our fellow Minnesotans that are currently serving, and veterans with a service-related disability. A small token of our appreciation is being shown by giving these service men and women a free year-round vehicle permit that will provide unlimited access to all 75 state parks and recreation areas in our great state.

Any park, anywhere in Minnesota.

In addition, there will be a special program on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, from 6-7pm at Whitewater State Park (near Winona). This program will be about the POW camp at the park that was once home to German prisoners of war. (What did they do here? Where did they go? What was life like being a prisoner? Did they cause mischief? All questions will be answered…)

Organizations such as Warrior InstituteOutward BoundSierra Club  and others have done studies that show the benefits outdoor recreation has on a person. It enhances a person’s emotional, physical, and physiological health; as the director of the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trail Division, Erika Rivers, describes, “Visiting a Minnesota state park can provide a healthy dose of nature therapy. If you’re wondering how to say ‘thanks for serving’ to a veteran in your life, consider inviting him or her to spend time outdoors with you.”

Deal.

The most common injury for American veterans is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder otherwise known as PTSD. PTSD is a mental health problem that typically develops after a person experiences or witnesses a life threatening event such as combat in war, a natural disaster, car accident, or sexual assault (Veterans Affairs). An estimated 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime, and 20 percent of the veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom experience PTSD symptoms in a given year according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It is estimated that less than 30 percent of veterans with mental health issues, however, will seek help.

Kacie Carlson, a northeast region naturalist for the Parks and Trails Division points out, “For whatever reason—the stigma, the expense, or something else—people in general find it difficult to seek treatment for mental health issues.  They may, however, willingly visit a park or trail, which can help combat stress and improve well-being.”

Carlson recently attended a conference that centered around the nature-based resiliency-building for active duty members of the armed forces, veterans and their families. She hopes that with these new benefits, more veterans and service members will take advantage of our parks and get into the outdoors to enjoy health benefits these activities can potentially provide.

This is a gift that, hopefully, will keep on giving.

To see all of the licenses, permits and passes that are available to military personnel and veterans, and the form of identification that an individual needs to show, visit www.mndnr.gov.

For more information, contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or (888) 646-6367 (8am-8pm, Monday through Friday, 9am-1pm Saturday).

(Above information found in this press release)