More and more outdoor organizations are partnering with local Veterans Affairs hospitals to bring veterans out into nature, reports High Country News. But as an agency, the VA isn't fully committed to "wilderness as therapy," so some veterans are working with data to establish just how helpful outdoor experiences can be.
What they're finding is that most veterans who have an outdoor experience are more willing to seek professional help, among other positive outcomes.
“I think there’s interest, but there is not necessarily a national acceptance of adventure-based experiences within the VA,” says psychologist David Scheinfeld, director of research for Project Rebirth, a nonprofit that develops healing programs for first responders and vets, who recently became a post-doctoral fellow for the VA in Austin, Texas. “The VA needs data showing it’s effective, safe, that it’s worth -supporting.”
Scheinfeld is working to provide that data. Last fall, in partnership with Outward Bound, he studied the psychological impacts of outdoor experiences for veterans. Though not yet peer-reviewed, that study is one of the closest examinations of the value of nature in treating war trauma. Scheinfeld observed how anxiety, sense of purpose and other health indicators changed for 199 vets before, immediately after and one month following an outdoor experience, such as mountaineering or backpacking for a week. The majority of veterans showed improvements, including increased willingness to seek professional help, lower rates of depression and enhanced feelings of social connection, though some of those changes tapered off after a month.