Since the novel coronavirus pandemic became part of daily life, many people are (understandably) interested in getting outside, whether that’s in their own neighborhood or at a state or national park. Access to the outdoors is a complex issue when we consider transportation, barriers for disabled folks, and the sheer privilege of having time off of work to get outside. It can also, perhaps paradoxically, come at a cost.
Thanks to a new law, the Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act, all veterans and Gold Star families (those who lost immediate family while serving) will be able to access federal recreational lands, wildlife refuges, national forests, and national parks for free, for life, as reported by WRAL.
President Joe Biden signed the VIP Act into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act on Jan. 5, 2022. Notably, the National Parks Service (NPS) actually declared that veterans and Gold Star families will have free access to the parks as of 2020. The difference here is that this law includes lifetime passes for people who are on active duty. The law gives free access to both the veteran and those traveling with them in a single vehicle.
To qualify for free access under the new law, veterans must have served in any of the U.S. Armed Forces (including the Reserves and the National Guard). Veterans can prove this by providing one of a number of IDs upon entrance to a park, including a Veteran ID Card, veterans designation on a driver’s license or another form of state ID, a veteran health identification card, or so on. Gold Star families can print out a voucher.
“When you take your oath, if you go into the service, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, you really are protecting the homeland,” Chuck Sams, who serves as the National Park Service’s director, said to USA Today in an interview. Sams noted that free parks access is a “recognition” of the responsibility veterans took on.
Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona was the lead sponsor of the bill. In a statement, she acknowledged the bill was named after Alexander Lofgren, a veteran from Arizona who once volunteered for her campaign and later served as a congressional aide for Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Lofgren passed in 2021.
In a statement last July, Grijalva said Lofgren was passionate about spending time outdoors and found the wilderness to be therapeutic. According to Grijalva, Lofgren believed that access to these public spaces was an important opportunity to help veterans ease back into civilian life.
I’m a lover of the outdoors and have certainly found plenty of relief and joy in getting outside (even if only for my little daily walks), but I would be remiss not to point out that therapy is therapy and while this law is a great thing, our veterans (and all of us) still need and deserve affordable, accessible health care—including mental health support.