In Washington State, the population of the military community is approximately 40% of the state's total population. Additionally, the revenues generated around the military community, ranging from military installations and their surrounding communities to the aerospace industry are a powerhouse in the state's economy. Why then is the Washington military community an underserved population in regards to outdoor access, outdoor recreation, and outdoor based therapeutic programs?
On August 4th and 5th, I was given the honor and privilege to lead a committee consisting of a diverse cross section of the military community from across the state in attempting to address this issue at Islandwood's second annual Military Families and Veterans Action Summit. While there are numerous brilliant ideas by brilliant people regarding the military community and the outdoors, most seem to never quite materialize out of the conception or planning phase. At the summit, we enjoyed a rare opportunity to plan and action our ideas, not only backed by the direct buy-in of numerous outdoor and military community organizations and sponsors, but we enjoyed the direct support of Washington Senator Patty Murray, Representative Derek Kilmer, and the WDVA Director Lourdes E. (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos.
In two short days, our team rolled up their sleeves and drew from years of experience in working with the military community in the outdoors in a variety of organizations ranging from hiking and climbing to agriculture and sweat lodges to formulate an actionable plan that would not only serve as part of a comprehensive solution stemming from the Islandwood Summit, but that would also serve as a feasible, achievable, and measurable plan as part of Governor Jay Inslee's Parks and Outdoor Recreation Task Force recommendations.
Our recommendations were broken down under four major categories as follows in brief:
1. Mental and Behavioral Health: The use of the outdoors in the treatment of mental and physical health has proven to be incredibly effective.
- Partner with existing mental health and military community health care organizations for veteran and active duty outreach and to modify existing care (VA and Tri-Care) with privately funded initiatives that increase the scope and effectiveness of existing treatment.
- Encourage the use of alternative therapeutic practices such as outdoor, equine, art, and tribal ceremony as primary forms of treatment as opposed to limited augmentation of existing practices.
- Reach out to military community youth with outdoor programming in order to reach their military parents. Use the children as a means to engage adults in healthier lives outdoors.
2. Research: While numerous examples of anecdotal evidence exists as for the effectiveness of the outdoors in treating mental and behavioral health issues, effective scientific research must be conducted to bring the outdoors to mainstream public health.
- Connect the Washington military community and state and NGOs to existing outdoor research initiatives around the country (U Michigan, California Berkley, Georgetown, and the VA Center of Excellence)
- Generate Washington based research; connect WA universities, nonprofits, government agencies and members of the military community to partner in research that will lead the nation in connecting outdoor therapy and recreation to public health.
- Expand research into the effectiveness of other alternative therapies such as art, equine, and tribal ceremony.
3. Networking, Public / Private Partnerships
- Create a Washington State veteran subcommittee or task force to oversee outdoor recreation and outdoor therapeutic initiatives in direct partnership with the WDVA.
- Design and implement a system of MOUs between community members, NGOs, Universities, and the WDVA to encourage partnerships and cooperation across the state.
- Create a WDVA website to provide outdoor resources for active and veteran community in order to consolidate reputable resources and to provide communication between organizations to better facilitate internal communication for individual service member needs.
4. Funding and Branding
- Create a State or WDVA grant program in partnership with private foundations to empower grassroots organization to conduct effective care, research, and programming for the military community.