By Rory Coulter
Veteran's Outdoor Advocacy Group
We chat with Friend of Ned Josh Jesperson, former NAVY Seal and president & founder of VOAG, about promoting and facilitating adjunct outdoor therapy for those who served.
Ned: What is VOAG?
VOAG: VOAG stands for Veterans’ Outdoor Advocacy Group. We’re a group of veteran leaders with the unique mission of promoting and advocating the power of outdoor therapy as an adjunct treatment to traditional approaches around mental health. Many of us are active outdoor athletes who’ve all experienced the healing power of the Great Outdoors firsthand. Our goal is to create a world where any veteran can walk into meet with their VA healthcare provider and be prescribed outdoor therapy as an adjunct or substitute treatment option, the same way we currently prescribe medications and traditional counseling care. We advocate and advance that goal by promoting the benefits of outdoor adjunct therapy, delivering research and advocacy, proving efficacy, and facilitating access to the outdoors through our VOAG Coalition outdoor trips with veterans utilizing our public lands. It’s powerful to know that the public lands we fought to protect and defend during our military service can now be an empowering tool for veterans to positively impact our health. Research has shown outdoor therapy is an innovative and powerful tool in treating some of the health challenges specific to veterans.
Ned: Tell us about VOAG’s legislative advocacy efforts.
VOAG: Our mission is to remain a non-partisan Veteran’s Service Organization. We seek to serve all who’ve worn the uniform. In 2020, we were able to help write and pass bipartisan legislation through Congress that was ultimately signed into law, requiring the VA to create the first of its kind Task Force on Outdoor Recreation for Veterans. This task force will report and make recommendations to the VA and Congress regarding the use of public lands or other outdoor spaces for adjunct medical treatment and therapy for veterans. This is the first critical step towards realizing our vision of seeing outdoor therapy as an everyday prescribable adjunct treatment option for veterans. In these often politically divisive times, seeing this legislation passed with wide bipartisan support is a testament to the priority and potential that our lawmakers and leaders see in outdoor therapy.
"Studies have shown — and veterans organizations strongly concur — that outdoor recreational activities can provide powerful therapeutic and healing benefits as well as camaraderie for veterans struggling with combat-related injuries or post-traumatic stress. We should be thinking outside-the-box to discover as many ways as possible to help veterans, and opening up federal lands and removing barriers to access for remedial outdoor recreation is a no-brainer.”
—Rep. Chris Smith
Ned: What is the 31 for 31 Campaign?
Many of us at VOAG are veterans of the War in Afghanistan. The “31 for 31 Project” is VOAG’s current flagship initiative to help honor the memory of veterans who are no longer with us. We believe, if we tell their stories and say their names, we honor their sacrifice and keep the memory of these heroes alive forever. This year, over the course of 31 weeks, VOAG and our Coalition partners are taking veterans on 31 outdoor trips to individually commemorate the 31 U.S. Service Members killed in action during the shootdown of a Chinook helicopter, call sign “Extortion 17.” “Extortion 17” represents the greatest single-day loss of American lives during the War in Afghanistan, as well as the deadliest helicopter crash in the history of the U.S. Special Operations. Our 31 for 31 trips include everything from ski trips adapted to fit the needs of amputee veterans to hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips open to all veterans all across our Nation’s public lands.
Ned: Why should people care about VOAG and how can they get involved / support the mission?
VOAG: If you love the outdoors, cherish our public lands, care about supporting veterans, and/or the prioritization of better mental health outcomes, then our mission is your mission. If you know a veteran who you think could benefit from outdoor therapy, you can go to our website voag.org and click the link to nominate a veteran for one of our outdoor trips. You can also donate through our website by clicking the “Support Us” button. Your donation goes directly to funding veteran participation in our outdoor trips and enabling access to outdoor adjunct therapies for veterans.
Ned: Why is VOAG’s mission relevant right now?
VOAG: At VOAG, we’re translating awareness into action. Our work is urgently needed to help provide solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our veteran community. In its most recent strategic plan, the VA identified preventing veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority. We know veterans with mental health diagnoses have a significantly elevated risk of suicide when compared to our civilian counterparts. At VOAG, we believe outdoor adjunct therapy is a promising, innovative, and effective solution to address urgent challenges like this and ultimately improve health outcomes among veterans. As veterans, part of our military training teaches us to think critically and work together to creatively solve challenges. At VOAG, we’re continuing to leverage those skills and apply that mindset to ultimately deliver solutions to our veteran community. VOAG is for veterans, by veterans. Like many veterans, many of us at VOAG feel a lifelong commitment / passion for service to our country and communities, even after we hang up our uniform.
Learn more about VOAG and follow VOAG on Instagram.
With your help, Ned has donated over $17,000 to VOAG, supporting brave veterans struggling with combat-related injuries and PTSD through the power of outdoor therapy. Learn more >
“We are so appreciative of Ned’s commitment to helping Veterans through VOAG. Ned has taken the time to listen to our community and understand how Veterans want to be empowered. Your generous donation makes an immediate impact by helping Vets gain access to the healing power of the outdoors.”
–Josh Jespersen, Former Navy SEAL and President & Founder of VOAG
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