National Parks Offer Veterans Places of Refuge and Rehabilitation
Since 1919, Americans have honored their servicemen and women on November 11. Originally established as Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson declared a day of remembrance on the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Germany. In so doing, Wilson exalted the “heroism of those who died in the country’s service” in World War I. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower extended this homage to American veterans of all wars. Thus, on Veterans Day, Americans pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the nation’s men and women in uniform.
In recent conflicts, more than 30,000 returning troops have been wounded, many severely. These United States soldiers and their families face medical, psychological, and economic challenges as a result of the injuries and traumas endured. They also contend with readjustment issues as the soldiers transition to civilian life.
Through a recently established partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the National Park Service will provide enhanced programs and services for injured military members. In addition to identifying a variety of activities and locations for WWP programs, the National Park Service will provide information on employment opportunities for veterans and their families.
“The words of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address . . . remind all of us ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,'” remarked National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. “National parks are places of refuge and inspiration. I am thrilled that this partnership will allow more veterans to be rejuvenated by the serenity, beauty, and recreational opportunities found in parks.”
The first collaborative project took place in October 2008. Twelve returned soldiers and five staff and counselors traveled to Acadia National Park in Maine. For four days, the group engaged in outdoor activities to build trust and to regain a sense of self-confidence.
“We take our young men and women who think their life is over and we show them life doesn’t stop at the hospital,” WWP national service director John Roberts explained to The Ellsworth American.
In 2002, a group of veterans responded to news coverage of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq by founding the Wounded Warrior Project. WWP began delivering backpacks with essential care and comfort items to veterans at military trauma centers. The organization expanded its program to include wilderness trips for veterans after they have left the hospital. Now, with the new partnership between WWP and the National Park Service, discharged veterans will bike, hike, kayak, and rock climb in America’s national parks to continue rehabilitation and to build life skills they can take back to their home communities.
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