Active military personnel in any branch or unit of the United States armed forces and veterans with a service-related disability are now eligible to receive a free year-round vehicle permit, providing unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.
“If you’re wondering how to say ‘thanks for serving’ to a veteran in your life, consider inviting him or her to spend time outdoors with you,” said Erika Rivers, director the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division. “Visiting a Minnesota state park can provide a healthy dose of nature therapy.”
These new benefits were approved by state lawmakers during the 2017 Minnesota Legislative session (Minnesota statutes, section 85.053, subdivisions 8 and 10).
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the leading injury for American veterans. An estimated 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime, and 20 percent of the veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of veterans with mental health issues, however, will seek help.
“For whatever reason—the stigma, the expense, or something else—people in general find it difficult to seek treatment for mental health issues,” said Kacie Carlson, northeast region naturalist for the Parks and Trails Division. “They may, however, willingly visit a park or trail, which can help combat stress and improve well-being.”
Carlson recently attended a conference on nature-based resiliency-building for members of the armed forces, veterans and their families. She hopes to see more veterans take advantage of the health benefits available to them in the outdoors.
“We as outdoor recreation managers hold the recipe for a very effective prescription for wellness: the outdoors,” she said.
There will be a special program on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, from 6 to 7 p.m. at Whitewater State Park (near Winona) about the POW camp at the park that was once home to German prisoners of war. (What did they do here? Where did they go? What was life like being a prisoner? Did they cause mischief?)
To see all of the licenses, permits and passes that are available to military personnel and veterans, and the form of identification that an individual needs to show, visit www.mndnr.gov.
The DNR is recognized as a Yellow Ribbon Company for its support of active and retired military personnel and their families.
For more information, contact the DNR Information Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-646-6367 (8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday).