Back to Nature: Military Veterans, Nature-Based Therapy, and Public Lands

Authors: David Havlick*, University of Colorado - Colorado Springs, CO, Lee Cerveny, US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Monika Derrien, US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Topics: Recreational and Sport Geography
Keywords: public lands, veterans
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: Download



The United States currently counts more than 20 million military veterans, many of whom served in recent wars in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 10 percent of veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by hyper-arousal, sleeping difficulties, flashbacks, and nightmares, among other symptoms. PTSD survivors face higher risks for suicide and a host of other challenges while reintegrating to civilian life. In recent years, outdoor experiences and exposure to nature have increasingly been associated with healing properties for persons experiencing stress. Building from a growing body of evidence, a number of therapeutic programs have been developed that offer nature-based programs to connect veterans (and other trauma survivors) with the outdoors through passive immersion, recreational activities, and outdoor-based service projects, often taking place on public lands. In 2018-2019, we conducted exploratory research to understand the range of nature-based programs and activities being offered to veterans, the benefits programs seek to deliver, and the implications of this growing use on public lands management. Working from interviews with land managers and partners, treatment providers, health professionals, and veterans, we have created a typology of programs, providers, and services geared toward nature-based treatment of PTSD, suggesting new opportunities and challenges for public land managers as they navigate the ways they can support veterans’ health through their stewardship of therapeutic landscapes.

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