Seven retired generals have called on Congress to boost funding for national parks, which they say can serve as spaces for "post-pandemic healing" of veterans under stress.
"The connection between military veterans and our nation's public lands is well-documented," the retired one- and two-star generals said in a letter sent Thursday to all members of the House and Senate.
That connection can help in healing "from traumatic experiences associated with one's military service," they added.
The letter, organized by the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation, urged passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in the next novel coronavirus economic stimulus package with the aim of being in place once national parks fully reopen.
The Outdoors Act, introduced in March by a bipartisan group of 56 senators, would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to make up for a backlog of maintenance in lands managed by the National Parks Service and other agencies.
The legislation would also provide permanent funding of $900 million each year that the conservation fund is authorized to receive from offshore oil and gas revenues.
The letter expressed the hope that, after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, veterans and the general public will be able to "use the power of public lands and time outdoors to heal and adjust to post COVID-19 life."
"From the Redwood forest to the Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon, the healing power of our nation's public lands have never been more important," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, managing director of Vet Voice Foundation.
The letter was signed by Eaton and retired Army Maj. Gens. Eric Olson and Gale Pollock; retired Army Brig. Gens. Nolen Bivens and Steve Anderson; and retired Marine Corps Brig. Gens. Leif Hendrickson and Stephen Cheney.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the National Parks Service has closed or limited access at many national parks while waiving entrance fees at those that remain open or have limited access.
Visitors centers, restrooms and many popular trails have also been closed to observe the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.