New legislation would provide free access to national parks for all disabled veterans
By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2019
WASHINGTON — A California congressman has introduced a bill to grant all disabled veterans free lifetime access to national parks and federal recreation sites.
The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act would amend the current eligibility for veterans to obtain national park passes. The new measure would allow veterans of any disability rating to get a lifelong pass. Service members are able to get a free military pass to national parks, regardless of a disability.
The bill, introduced last month by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., aims to reduce confusion over what technically constitutes a disabled veteran.
“In short, current law is unclear as to which veterans qualify,” said Graham Senor, a spokesman for Ruiz’s office. “Lack of statutory guidance has required the National Park Service to make broad judgments about eligibility for veterans.”
Anyone, including civilians, with “permanent disability” that “severely limits one or more major life activities" are now eligible for a lifetime pass for national parks, according to a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. However, there's no clear definition of "permanent disability.” There is some information on various unofficial online forums about veterans needing a certain disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain the park access, but the National Park Service spokeswoman said that isn’t true and the application form for the free pass doesn't mention a VA rating.
Disabled veterans can try applying for the free pass online if they can provide proof of permanent disability.
But the bill introduced by Ruiz allows any veteran with any disability to get a free pass to national parks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2018, 4.7 million veterans had a service-connected disability.
"National parks can connect our veterans with nature and increase their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being,” Ruiz said. “Through the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act, we will expand the opportunity for our disabled veterans to visit these cherished sites and improve their overall health. I look forward to working to pass this bipartisan legislation, which would heal and improve the lives of our veterans.”