National parks admission to become free for wounded veterans

A proposal from lawmakers in New England and California to give free access to national parks to wounded veterans is poised to become law.

The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives after previously passing the U.S. Senate. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic California Rep. Raul Ruiz proposed the law.

The bill is designed to change the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to make veterans with a service-connected disability eligible for a free lifetime pass to U.S. national parks, the lawmakers said. Collins said the change “will ensure that disabled veterans can continue to access our country’s national treasures for outdoor recreation, which can help heal both the visible and invisible wounds of war.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior also recently accepted a proposal from Maine lawmakers Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, to make admission to national parks free for Gold Star families.

Starting on Veterans Day Nov. 11, the federal government began to grant free access to national parks and other public lands to veterans and Gold Star families, according to the Department of the Interior.

The department will permanently waive entrance fees for veterans and Gold Star dependents. The department now waives fees for active-duty military service members, and disabled veterans have been able to apply for a lifetime park access pass.

Veterans can use four kinds of ID to access the benefit. Park employees will take Gold Star families at their word, Margaret Everson, counselor to the Interior secretary and head of the National Park Service said. Gold Star dependents have a loved one who was killed in military service.

“We have a special place in our heart for these families,” she said.

SOURCE: Associated Press; Contributing: Curtis Tate, USA TODAY