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Outdoor Programs for Veterans Offer Therapeutic Opportunities on Public Lands

Veterans group on a hike.
Lee Cerveny and Monika Derrien, research social scientists with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, examined how outdoor programs for veterans on public lands can use the inherent therapeutic value of nature to benefit veterans, particularly those experiencing posttraumatic stress. They identified the challenges and opportunities facing outdoor programs for veterans on public lands, highlighting how agency policies may shape the development of therapeutic landscapes.
Fiscal Year
Research Unit(s)
Goods, Services, and Values
Principal Investigator(s)

Many veterans returning from military deployment experience stress- or trauma-related symptoms that make reintegration with civilian society difficult. Nature exposure and outdoor recreation have been shown to be valuable alternative and complementary therapeutic approaches that can reduce trauma symptoms and help individuals integrate restorative practices into their lives. Many outdoor programs now exist for veterans, ranging from physically strenuous to more relaxed or contemplative practices, but all share a focus on operating in natural settings. Often, these programs take place on public lands and waters, from local trout streams to long-distance national scenic trails, and present a variety of needs, opportunities, and challenges for coordinators. Through a series of interviews with public land managers, program providers and participants, health professionals, and veterans, researchers from the Pacific Northwest Research Station and their colleagues identified a wide variety of outdoor programming available to veterans and described the opportunities and challenges facing these programs on public lands. They found that public lands were particularly symbolic for veterans and well-suited to provide therapeutic opportunities. Agency policy can shape future partnerships between agencies and outdoor programs on public lands, fostering therapeutic spaces on public lands for veterans and others.  

External Partners
  • David Havlick - University of Colorado