Veterans Benefit from Nature’s Power to Heal and Teach

The Takeaway: Programs help military veterans adjust to civilian life through on-the job training and outdoor activities.

Transitioning from the dangers of military service to the stresses of civilian life and employment can be daunting. Numerous studies document the healing benefits of outdoor activities. NOAA puts this information to good use by collaborating with other organizations to provide programs that offer opportunities to enjoy nature, work outdoors, and contribute to meaningful projects.

Corals Repair
The 2017 hurricane season caused major damage to coral reefs off the Florida and Puerto Rico coasts, but NOAA scientists found excellent partners to assess and repair that damage in Force Blue, a nonprofit group that gives former combat divers opportunities to use their specialized training in coral conservation efforts. Seven veterans worked in dark, murky conditions to identify and restore damaged coral reefs, and their expertise in moving delicate coral and heavy equipment underwater was greatly valued. Force Blue also trained the vets to observe marine life behavior and take underwater photos documenting reef health. Force Blue represents all branches of the U.S. military and The British Royal Marines.

Nature and Art
In Michigan, former military police officer Natasha Galvin takes fellow veterans on fly fishing and kayaking adventures that lessen their feelings of isolation and stress. Their story is captured in the video, “Getting Out, Getting Through,” one of six in “The Power of Nature” video series. The project was supported by Michigan’s Coastal Zone Management Program.

In Mississippi, the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve stepped in to help when the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, suffered state budget cuts to its art department. Since 2017 the research reserve has provided clients with healthy, relaxing activities through watercolor and batik art classes, hiking and birding tours, boating and kayaking forays, and more. Hundreds of veterans have participated to date, with some describing nature as having a profound healing effect. One vet overcame a fear of water through kayaking excursions, and others have created beautiful works of art and begun new hobbies through the program.

In Alabama and Mississippi, veterans given on-the-job training in “prescribed fire” techniques learned the skills needed to land jobs as firefighters, foresters, and other resource-management professionals in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. Through the Student Conservation Association Veteran Fire Corps, groups of veterans worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018, 2019, and 2020 to conduct prescribed burns on hundreds of acres of the Grand Bay Research Reserve and three U.S. National Wildlife Refuges. In addition to offering wildfire protection, these burns result in healthier pine savannas, extra shelter for wildlife, healthier soils, and fewer insects and diseases that prey on animals and plants. The veterans also helped to maintain nature trails.

NOAA programs involved in these efforts include the Coral Reef Conservation Program, the National Coastal Zone Management Program, and the National Estuarine Research Reserves. (2018/Updated 2021)

More Information: NOAA Office for Coastal Management

Partners: Coral Reef Conservation Program, Grand Bay Research Reserve, Heart of the Lakes, Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, Stone Hut Studios, Student Conservation Association Veteran Fire Corps, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Gulf Coast and Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complexes