Honoring America's real VIPs
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This year, we celebrate the 245th birthday of the United States. Independence Day is a great day to picnic with friends, spend time outside, and enjoy a fireworks show, but it is also much more than that. It is our duty to honor the men and women who, for the past two and a half centuries, have kept our county free.

We owe a debt of gratitude to American military members and their families and we want to repay them in a very small way by giving them lifetime access to our national parks.

There are few things that instill American pride quite like watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon, seeing bison roam through Yellowstone, or hiking through the forest in Acadia. From sea to shining sea, we are a nation of incredible beauty and biodiversity. Congress recognizes the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor recreation for current servicemembers and veterans. Last December Congress passed and President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE signed legislation establishing an interagency task force to identify barriers and make recommendations to increase the use of public lands and other outdoor spaces for veteran medical treatment.

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Removing barriers and increasing access to our public lands is exactly why we have introduced the bipartisan Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act: to give servicemembers, veterans, and Gold Star families free passes to all national parks and federal recreational lands for life. It is the least we can do for those who gave so much for our country. Currently, active duty servicemembers and veterans are able to receive a one-year free access pass to all parks with entrance fees. With more than 135 co-sponsors, the VIP Act would codify the active duty and veterans passes, as well as make the pass for veterans a lifetime pass. It would also amend the previously codified Gold Star families annual pass and make it a lifetime pass.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army who served for 24 years, Congresswoman Miller-Meeks is no stranger to the myriad hardships that come from being a member of the military. We both are also privileged to represent a host of servicemembers in Congress and want to make it even easier for them to enjoy time with family and friends in America’s most beautiful landscapes.

Our national parks are for all of us. No one is more worthy of experiencing open access to these incredible places than the men and women who fought to keep us free and the families who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Unfortunately, it is often all too easy to pay lip service to the military’s sacrifice but then not follow through with action to recognize their service. We aim to change that, one legislative recognition at a time.

If you or a member of your family has been a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, we are grateful for your service, today and every day. We hope to see you in a national park soon!

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a 24-year Army veteran and currently represents Iowa’s 2nd District. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanGray wolf may be relisted as endangered after Trump removed protections Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Progressives wage 'no gas' campaign Push for Civilian Climate Corps highlights underlying obstacles to restoring public lands MORE is the Republican leader of the House Natural Resources Committee and currently represents Arkansas’ 4th District.