Alternative Approaches to Enhance Well-being among Veterans: An Approach for Military Families?

A community’s capacity to support military family readiness and resilience often depends on individual and familial health and well-being (Raeburn et al., 2006). An individual’s health and well-being is impacted by the quality of their surroundings including their exposure to nature. On the service member side, Total Force Fitness alludes to this benefit by including an “environmental domain,” however, this domain is not well fleshed out (its description includes predominantly threats – see TFF model). It follows, though, that as with servicemember fitness, with military families a similar environmental domain exists. A model or roadmap forward may be found in work that is happening among the US veterans population.

Launched in 2018, the Veteran Affairs Whole Health Initiative addresses all aspects affecting one’s well-being through the Circle of Health. The Circle of Health addresses one’s surroundings – or personal environment – which includes the home, workplace, neighborhood, personal experiences, and climate. However, the environment touches every aspect of the Circle of Health as time in nature can facilitate personal growth, reflection, rejuvenation, community connection, and physical activity (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Stemming from this foundation, the Outdoor Rx Act was signed into law in New York on November 11, 2020. The first-of-its-kind legislation aims to improve veterans’ access to public lands and recreational spaces. Dr. Keith Tidball (OneOp Community Capacity Building, Cornell Cooperative Extension) served as an advisor on the legislation. In April of 2022, the New York Outdoor Rx Coalition held its inaugural session. At the federal level, the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act (H.R. 2435) was passed in spring 2022. This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish the Task Force on Outdoor Recreation for Veterans to report on and make recommendations regarding the use of public lands or other outdoor spaces for medical treatment and therapy for veterans.

Interest in the utilization of the outdoors as a pathway for healing and general well-being is rapidly increasing. There is hope for similar collaborations around the country to serve the nearly 19 million US veterans and further possibility of impacting active duty service members and their families.

References

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: General Synthesis. http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/Synthesis.html

Raeburn, J., Akerman, M., Chuengsatiansup, K., Mejia, F., Oladepo, O. (2006). Community capacity building and health promotion in a globalized world. Health Promotion International, (21)1, 84-90. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17307961/.

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