OPINION: Veterans climb above trauma on Mt Rainier —

OPINION: Veterans climb above trauma on Mt Rainier

By Joshua Brandon
Tacoma News Tribune

After three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Many of my brothers and sisters at arms have faced this same challenges upon returning home from war abroad.

Yet, too few of them have access to a resource that, at least for me, was ultimately life saving. For me and many of those like me, "recovery" is a life long journey that we will always strive for, but may never quite reach. During one of the roughest legs of my journey, I was able to take shelter on the land I served. Getting outside set me on a path to survival.

I had never truly experienced mountains or forests before I was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord outside of Tacoma. Growing up for most of my life in Cleveland, a city park or a wooded back yard was about as close to “wilderness” as I ever got.

When my buddies and I first saw Mt. Rainier looming on the horizon, our immediate impulse was to go climb it. As a group of restless warriors waiting for their next fight, what else was there to do?

What began as a test of our own strength soon served as a transformative event. I fell in love with the mountains and kept returning to them as I found they were better than any pill or therapy I had received. And I am not an anomaly. A University of Michigan and Sierra Club study found strong suggestions that extent group-based nature recreation can have significant positive impacts on veterans struggling with serious health problems.

Researchers took veterans in groups of six to 12 on a multi-day hike and surveyed their moods before and after. One week after the experience, veterans reported an increase in positive mood. social functioning, and a gain in positive life outlook. More research is needed, but anyone who has spent time on a trail knows the restorative power of being outside.

I stayed in Washington after my time with the army ended because I developed a deep love for the outdoors and have in some ways been acting as an evangelist for its benefits. It is gratifying to see our governor shares in that respect for the landscape.

On February 20, Governor Jay Inslee announced an executive order to create a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation to elevate the $22.5 billion outdoor recreation economy in Washington. Thank you, Governor, for taking this first step in protecting our natural heritage for the future.

I invite this task force to view the incredible health benefits provided by our verdant landscapes as another economic benefit and an essential asset to creating a high quality of life for all Washingtonians, especially those living with mental anguish.

We have future research planned with Cal Berkeley on the effects of the outdoors on the mental state of veterans, adults, and children that we expect to release in 2017.

Creating comprehensive health solutions -- whether it is something large like veterans’ mental health or simply creating a healthier lifestyle for our families -- will require inclusion and support of strong funding for our great outdoors.

I mean it when I say the mountains saved my life. I hope all Washingtonians will come to appreciate the impact the outdoors have on lives of those in need of some natural respite. Or, you could join us on the trail and see it for yourself.

Joshua, a veteran formerly based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, lives in Lacey and runs the national Sierra Club’s military outdoors program.

Read the complete story at Tacoma News Tribune
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