Concerned veteran: Take the Great American Outdoors Act through to the finish line

Concerned veteran: Take the Great American Outdoors Act through to the finish line
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With over 31 years of military service, I’ve known the highs and lows, the failures and successes that life in uniform brings. Above any promotion or award, or rank I’ve achieved, I’m most proud to have served with some of the strongest and most resilient men and women this country has to offer. Time and time again, I’ve seen how when banded together, the whole becomes stronger than the sum of its parts. How together, men and women can weather much more than they can apart.

Our country is now in an unprecedented time of turmoil. Threatened by COVID-19 and its effects, it’s more critical now than ever that we come together to serve each other, planning for the future and navigating the rough terrain.

Veterans know a thing or two about trauma and how to heal from it. As Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran and the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, did decades ago, many of my fellow veterans have retreated to nature to move through their traumas. 

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As families and communities across this nation begin to recover from the effects of this disease and the necessary efforts to mitigate its spread, people will seek the comfort, peace and healing that comes from the outdoors. Congress must take steps now to ensure that all Americans have access close to home, safe public lands and outdoor spaces. 

Last week, the Senate took action to do just that — passing the Great American Outdoors Act by a wide bipartisan margin. This legislation, which would expand access to the outdoors, protect America’s public lands, create jobs and direct investment in communities hit hard by the economic shutdown would also address the $12 billion maintenance backlog of our National Park System (NPS) and fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the levels that its founders intended. While we all have enjoyed a bike trail or ballfield in our lives, many of us never stop to think about how these places were created and maintained over the years. For nearly six decades, the LWCF has been working — largely behind the scenes — funding projects in every county, in every state around the country. Overall it has invested more than $18.4 billion dollars in everything from battlefields to public pools, serving all Americans. 

What’s more, it has done all of this at no cost to the taxpayer. 

You read that right. By using royalties paid by energy companies, the LWCF has been able to serve American families, veterans and communities from sea to shining sea. But it’s not just people that reap the benefits of nature — businesses are also bolstered by these investments with small businesses comprising 90 percent of the outdoor recreation industry. 

What this translates to is community investment and job creation. With unemployment at record highs, and unemployment among veterans currently sitting at almost 12 percent in May, up from just about 4 percent the month prior, this investment could not come soon enough. New studies have shown that a fully-funded LWCF could create as many as 27,900 new jobs alone.

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It’s no wonder that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE signaled his support for bipartisan legislation to fully and permanently fund the program prior to the pandemic. It’s equally clear that this legislation is needed now more than ever. 

With Senate passage secured, it's up to the House of Representatives to take the Great American Outdoors Act across the finish line. 

We’re all trying to find balance during this time, and Congress will need to come to compromise after compromise to help lead the American people through the pandemic — but passing the Great American Outdoors Act is a simple decision that serves the American public and the American economy, when both are in critical need. 

I’ve learned many lessons as a soldier, lessons that serve me to this day. As we all continue to move through uncharted waters, I urge us all to lean on those lessons of teamwork, resilience and commitment  to our nation, to each other and to the public lands that serve us all.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Steven M. Anderson served 31-years in the U.S. Army that included logistics command and staff assignments in Korea, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Germany, Hawaii, and four tours in the Pentagon. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.