Veterans in wilderness

Veterans from California, Nevada and Arizona participate in a Wilderness Society writing workshop in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.

It’s no surprise that veterans  have a long history of serving as stewards of the American outdoors, and with our public lands under pressure from development and other threats, their voices are more important than ever.

As part of our work to maintain wild places now and in the future, we are dedicated to working with veterans to conserve the public lands that are important to them.

Our work with veterans

Veterans Wilderness Writing Workshops

One way to help veterans process their emotions, is to give them time for introspection as well as the opportunity to bond with others who have had similar experiences.

The Wilderness Society is helping offer such opportunities to our veterans through writing workshops in nature.

We launched this effort in 2014 by partnering with the Veterans Writing Project to host the Veterans Wilderness Writing Workshop in Arizona’s scenic Dragoon Mountains. The workshop gave veterans, active and reserve service-members and military family members an enriching writing experience and a chance to build a greater connection to America’s wild public lands. We hope to develop and expand this project in the future.

The next workshop is tentatively planned for 2016. 

Learn more: Writing workshop is an opportunity for veterans to share stories

We invite veterans, active duty service members and military families to join us in dialogue and activities on the link between veterans and America’s great outdoors to achieve common goals—both nationwide and in local wildlands across America.

Image: Wayne Sapp, a Vietnam veteran participates in The Wilderness Society's writing workshop for veterans. Image by Kate MacKay

For information  about our work with veterans and future workshops please contact

Why public lands matter to veterans

Our wildlands provide an excellent place for self-centering or connecting with family and friends. This is true for people from all walks of life, but it is especially important for veterans.

Often haunted by the horrors of war and the loss of unit comraderie, many combat veterans find that extended time in the great outdoors allows a space for healing. Post-service feelings of isolation can be reduced through outdoor experiences that build comraderie or allow veterans to use their outdoor survival skills.  

WWII veterans understood this decades ago when they took to camping and hiking after the war, and today Iraq and Afghanistan vets benefit from organized programs that use nature as the key element.

Even during military service, nature can be a helpful source of inspiration. Some service members say that dreams of getting back and relaxing at a favorite camping or fishing spot helped them get through the endless ups and downs of a deployment. For all ot these reasons, thousands of veterans rely on our public lands to provide the setting for hope and healing.

Outdoor programs help healing  

Outdoor programs for returning veterans are critical for helping our service men and women transition from combat service. Veterans who have served in warzones often experience a profound sense of isolation after returning home. The sense of camaraderie, adventure, intense team work, and commitment to a cause larger than oneself is often replaced by mundane tasks of day-to-day life.

Specialized outdoor programs can help veterans deal with these losses by bringing vets together to bond with others who share similar experiences. Outdoor settings can help replicate team work opportunities or the sense of physical accomplishment in outdoor survival situations that is so inherent in military service. Peaceful, natural areas also provide a refuge to get away and think, a chance to be introspective.

Many vets report that such outdoor programs have been their saving grace. Having accessible public lands that retain their natural and wild characters are essential in providing these opportunities across America.

Outdoor recreation may help those with PTSD

Veterans are at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About 11-20 percent of those who have served in Iraq have PTSD in a given year. Our great outdoors can be a healing agent in this battle. Consider the following:

Image: Flyfishing is offered to veterans as part of the Project Healing Waters, one of hundreds of outdoor programs that help veterans. By Project Healing Waters, flickr.

SHORT FILM: In this film, veterans Eric Guzman and Edye Joyner talk about the healing qualities of wilderness while paddling Congaree National Park.

Without having the wilderness, there would be a lot of vets, I know for a fact, that wouldn't be here that still are. Just getting on the water, just being out in mother nature, it gives you hope. - Eric Guzman, former Marine.

Veterans defending our public lands

Though veterans are not always included in the conversation about protecting American public lands, they should be. Their affinity for the outdoors is clear, and it is no surprise that they feel they have a stake in protecting it.

Veterans support protecting wilderness

  • 75 percent of western veterans who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars favor the federal government protecting public lands, according to a Nov. 2013 survey.
  • In the same survey, 80 percent supported the idea of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses fees from offshore energy development to preserve local and national parks and other places.
  • Another 66 percent thought the government should take into account environmental impact when considering energy development leases on local recreation and wildlife habitat.

We aim to help veterans champion wildlands and outdoor recreation-- to ensure the great lands they have protected are kept intact and free for all Americans to enjoy and not damaged or sold off to the highest bidder to be exploited for personal gain.