As part of “National Hunting and Fishing Month” today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke hosted a first-of-it’s-kind meeting with veteran service organizations to share experiences and ideas to make public lands more accessible to veterans with and without disabilities. The Hunting and Fishing Access for Veterans roundtable discussion was hosted by Secretary Zinke and included members of his leadership team. More than 20 veteran advocates participated, including many who specialize in hunting and fishing therapy for returning warriors.
“Hunting and fishing are more than a pastime. They are a way for us to connect with the land and the people we’re with, while also helping recharge body, mind, and soul in the solace of nature,” said Secretary Zinke. “Hunting and fishing present such an incredible healing opportunity for our veterans who return home with physical and emotional wounds. Unfortunately, many of our public lands are either inaccessible to individuals with various physical disabilities, or we just don’t offer programs to encourage veterans to access and use them. I want these warriors to be able to return home from their service and enjoy the very lands they fought to protect. I want to make sure hunting and fishing on public lands is easily accessible and available. Hearing ideas from leaders in the veteran community about how to achieve this goal has given my team some much-needed insight as we move forward.”
Army Green Beret John Wayne Walding and Benghazi warrior Mark “Oz” Geist, both motivational speakers and combat veterans, shared their personal stories about how hunting on public lands helped them recover from battlefield injuries and strengthened the bonds with their families. Walding spoke of the first hunt he took in Alaska after having his leg amputated, which proved to be the motivational force for him to reenter the military and return to duty. Geist spoke about the bond developed between him and his WWII veteran father stalking and hunting on Colorado public lands.
Following the opening remarks, breakout sessions were held so Interior leadership could solicit feedback regarding veteran affairs and veteran accessibility on public lands.