Why Heading Into Nature Helps Veterans (Lornett Vestal)

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Lornett Vestal Humans Outside Podcast

You know how we feel about veterans using nature to heal from the wounds of war. After all, helping Luke deal with the hidden injuries from service was what sent us packing for Alaska to start with. Spending time outside, study after study demonstrates, helps brains heal from trauma.

Veterans Day is a day set aside for the U.S. to honor its living veterans. It also makes a great time to talk about veteran-specific issues, like heading into nature to find the assistance you need. In this episode of Humans Outside we talk with Lornett Vestal, who leads programming for the Sierra Club’s military outdoors effort.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:44] Lornett Vestal’s favorite outdoor space

[4:03] How Lornett became someone who likes to go outside

[11:05] What we decided to call members of the Space Force (sorry, guys)

[11:28] The problem with military transition

[15:54] Why going outside is great for veterans

[22:42] What he’s seen from veterans outside

[27:12] Why doing something as a group or unit is important

[31:46] Do we lean on medication too much?

[38:18] Do we overcomplicated heading outside?

[47:32] How to get involved with the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors

[50:06] Lornett’s favorite outdoor gear

[51:36] Lornett’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Register for our newsletter to win a decal: https://humansoutside.com/newsletter

Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunesGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.


Amy Bushatz 0:06

If you’ve heard any of our backstory here at Humans Outside, you know how passionate we are about veterans and the outdoors. And you know why? If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap. My husband Luke is a U.S. Army veteran and member of the Alaska Army National Guard who served and was injured in Afghanistan in 2009. We didn’t really understand those hidden injuries, traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD until 2016. When he left active duty, we packed the station wagon and we moved up here to Alaska sight unseen, so he could focus on spending more time outside doing the one thing we have found that really made him feel better heading outside. Today he runs a nonprofit remedy Alpine that focuses on taking Alaska veterans into nature. So yeah, we’re passionate about veterans outdoors because it’s personal. And it’s personal for today’s guest Lornett Vestal is a US Navy veteran who, like Luke, realized just how important heading outside was to his post Navy life. Lornett now works for the Sierra Club where he is their military outdoor senior campaign representative. While he understands the power of nature, because he lives it he has a special insight into that world through his work in leading that program and focused on this, leveraging the research topology changes to better veteran lives. Today, Lornett is going to talk to us about all that stuff. Lornett, welcome to Humans Outside.

Lornett Vestal 2:23

Thank you, Amy. Happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

AB 2:28

Yeah, okay, so we start all of our interviews, listening to our guests tell us about their favorite spot to have a conversation outside as if we are just sort of imagining ourselves hanging out with you in your favorite outdoor space. Where are we with you today?

LV 2:44

Well, I think the best place to have a conversation I would say around a campfire. Yeah, which depending on what part of the country you can do that and you can’t in Georgia so let’s just say we’re around in Georgia and backcountry Georgia around the campfire because we do have rain here, unlike our colleagues that was our friends and family and colleagues out west and in the southwest and California where if you have a campfire that’s great, but you know, you might burn down the whole state so yeah, don’t do that people. But we’re Georgia lots of rain, you can have a campfire. I think those are like the best conversations. Sometimes I will have adult beverage other times maybe not depending on what type of outing it is. But I think just kind of the fire is just a start is a fire in a good conversation. And if you stay up late and you’re like one of the last few people around a campfire those conversations get really really interesting.

AB 3:44

Yeah, they definitely, definitely do lots of processing lots of good stories that happen there. I’ve definitely I’ve definitely seen that myself. So tell us though, okay, as we’re sitting around our campfire as it were, how did you become somebody who likes to head outside? What’s your story on that?

LV 4:03

Um, wow, that’s a good question. I kind of found his work by accident. So I’ll give you the quick abbreviated version of how I get to this point. But um, after I got out in 2005 after serving on the board the USS Cleveland, which is now decommissioned. So either it is in a museum somewhere or is deep six, which means it is basically become a coral reef for a lot of fishes and other creatures that live in the ocean. I went to college, started in IU use the GI bill in Illinois. My home state has a Illinois veteran grant so I basically got college mostly paid for thanks to my service. And I majored in sociology and thought I was going to be like a professor or something like that, and then end up falling in my backup plan, which is becoming a social worker. So I attended in 2009, I started attending the University of Chicago, and get my degree in social work, they call it Social Service Administration, because they’re all like fancy. And now the student loans prove it. But um, after that, I ended up working, I thought we’d be working with vets. One thing led to another, I ended up working in education for like, several years after, during grad school and after grad school as an intern, and then worked as administrator in Chicago public schools. And then a year after that worked several years, was working for educational nonprofits. My wife, who I met in Chicago, and was an attorney, but she worked for Environmental Law Center, which is an organization in Chicago. And so he did environmental law, and when we moved to Georgia, because she got another job with Southern Environmental Law Center, or something like that. They just was called, I hope I get it, right. But she didn’t like that place. So she won’t yell at me about that. Anyway, she was still doing environmental law at the time. And when I moved down here, I was trying to get jobs and education with my Social Work background and kind of want to do that type of work that I’ve been doing. Because I think, you know, that’s hanging out with young people, teenagers and young adults. It’s a great combination, because you have these life experiences, they’re going through things, they have questions, whether that’s what they want to do, they want to join the military or not and you need to be honest with them. And everybody has their own decision about how they lead kids to that point. But it’s just really great work. And I love the type of work. But she was like, we’re not gonna have any luck with those jobs, look for big green organizations, environmental organizations, and I’d be in a typical veteran being like, bey, what do they want? What a bunch of dummies, veterans, big environmental organizations, that sounds ridiculous. I did this for several months in still no luck with work, fiinding a stable career here in Georgia. I was doing some volunteer work at a church working in a soup kitchen. But that was about the only type of work I was doing, which is volunteer work. But still, like, you know, money happens. He ain’t we are adults, so we got to pay the bills. So I really reconsider what my wife has told me because I should have listened to first time. So I was like, all right, maybe I should try some big green new organizations and Sierra Club was one of the first ones I thought about, and saw that they had a position open for Sierra Club military outdoors. And I happen to apply. And kind of when I got to know a little bit more about the role. I was like, you know, you, you’re really going to pay me to get folks to do outdoor adventure, and outdoor activities. That’s pretty cool. Because these are only things I really only done on vacation, or when I was, when I was on vacation. So one thing led to another, I got the job and I’ve been at the Sierra Club for almost six years now. So that’s that’s how I ended up here. So it was not a straight path. It was like many things in life, a windy road. And I shouldve listened to my wife in the first place.

AB 8:10

isn’t that how it goes? is is uh, so you I know you have a passion for for the environment. Obviously your wife does, too. Have you personally experienced this healing power of nature that you now leverage for the military program folks, prior to joining Sierra Club on this, is that something you had personally experienced?

LV 8:33

Actually, Amy, it was. In college, I have a friend who is also who also ended up being a social worker. So we’re, we’re like the small percentage of male social workers in this world. His name was Ulysses, and we met undergrad actually at a anti war protests. Funny enough, but we became good friends. We’re still good friends. And he introduced me to sweat lodges. So these are kind of indigenous ceremonies, cleansing ceremonies, and I’ve done them in the backyards in Chicago, I’ve done them in the backcountry of Illinois. I’ve done them out in Utah. And this is all before I even stepped foot in the Sierra Club. I had to know right then and there that I was kind of utilizing this ancient kind of cleansing ceremony given to us by indigenous folks to kind of process everything that had happened in my life to that point. So that was that was really the first time and also besides that, after I was honorably discharged in 2005, I did spend a summer in Costa Rica working for I was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. But during the weekends we would travel to the countryside hiking, whitewater rafting, climbing, zip lining, going to the beach. It was all kinds of outdoor stuff. It’s a beautiful country, beautiful people, it was perhaps one of the most amazing experiences as a young man can have. I was young at the time. So you know, we also did a lot of partying too. So I’m not gonna say that we just had, we just were doing wholesome fun. I was 22 I was I was former Navy, I was just out of the Navy. So it was a lot of beer drinking going on, you know, so so but but but I didn’t know that I was kind of doing that transition peace, post military, which is something that I talked about three different podcasts this past this past month. And this kind of what, and I know your partner feels the same way, Amy. But what was interesting about kind of, to join the military, you know, everybody to baseline has to go to boot camp to become a soldier, sailor, airman, or whatever they call the space force, folks, I’m gonna call them space cadets. And I came

AB 11:05

I’m gonna call them space cadets. I think, I think they prefer guardians. But I’m sorry, guys.

LV 11:15

That’s just one of my nerd cards, I’m gonna be I’m a back off,

AB 11:22

We’re just gonna call them space space cadets, or, you know, for short spacies.

LV 11:28

We love you to space force folks. But um, you go through the boot camp process. And now also you got to do your training, depending on you know, what your AOS is, or MOS is, or, you know, rate or rate. And also you get promoted in other schools and training comes along with that, but everybody goes to boot camp to become, you know, a military member. But when you get out your discharge, whether you get discharged from the guard, or active duty, or reserves, you kind of be like, you know, you go through this next program, and what we think is called MIPS, that’s something like that. It’s a two day program.

Well, you know, you sit in class and the base and they tell you you don’t have to shave anymore, and good luck. And that’s it. And I think that’s, we’re doing it wrong. And it’s kind of transition pieces are very important. Because you look at many indigenous cultures, and when they had one warring nations in their soldiers came back from the battlefield, they had, you know, before they could go back into regular society, they had to kind of process that in and kind of be bought back into society to process their experience. And I say this to go for all military service members, because I think many civilians think that every service member at whatever moves scene, they saw the movies, like if they saw Black Hawk Down, or, or jarhead, or any type of Platoon, or Apocalypse Now, any type of war movie, they think every soldier did that. First off, now everybody’s in the army, or the Marines. So that’s, that’s very different, some of our space cadets. So not everybody sees combat, but everybody has experienced, has been in the military. And it’s a very different world, compared to the rest of the civilian world, it just is very different. And very few of us will end up like, you know, General Colin Powell, that’s just his career was very different from a lot of people. But most of us regular vets who don’t become like, you know, high ranking generals and elected officials, or appointed officials, we just we go through the service.

But when we get out that’s kind of it’s not really processing what we’ve been through whether we’ve been through a combat zone, whether we support individuals in a combat zone, or whether we just been in the military, we don’t do that transition piece. So program that the Sierra Club Military Outdoors, is kind of that, that that gap to help folks who have gotten out all type of service members who’ve gotten out the military or still in it kind of want to just, they might be transitioning, they might have got out just last week, they might have got out 20 years ago, they might have got out 40 years ago, but they come to our program. And I could connect with veterans, military, families, and larger community who are interested in kind of working with veterans because we don’t buy but it’s kind of healing through nature, connecting with their fellow veterans. So veterans healing through nature for the benefit of the veteran in nature. So obviously, with the Sierra Club, being a conservation group, we want to protect wild spaces. So that’s our ultimate goal. But a military outdoors program is just kind of helping military veterans with that transition process by connecting to other veterans. And what I really like about our program is that we train our volunteers to be outdoor leaders. So the veterans can you can come along and they can do whatever type of trips they want to do. They want to do some mountain biking. They could do that fly fishing, regular fishing. kayaking, they want to float down the river on a tube, they can do that, too. They just want to kind of go meet up at the park and do some yoga. We are open, it’s all up to our volunteer leaders of what they want to do. And I’ve been on some pretty incredible outing experiences locally and nationally.

AB 15:21

So we’re obviously pretty convinced that you and I and and also here, Humans Outside that spending time outside is life changing. So I’m wondering if you could dive a little bit deeper into something you just mentioned, which is this particular power for veterans and heading outside? What is some information and research that you lean on when developing these programs or when when convincing a fellow veteran that heading out into nature might be the thing that they’re really looking for? What do you what do you lean on?

LV 15:54

So we we partner with the University of Utah and we did some studies back in the day and also kind of currently, trips that I’ve laid personally, trips and my colleagues led and these researchers is people far smarter than us — those PhD types, they measure cortisol levels pre and post trip. And it also followed up with the vets who came on our outings several months later to kind of test stress levels, hormone levels and things of that nature and saw that there were positive changes. The downside is you know, you can go you can have that kind of zone blissful moment on the trail when you’re off and then you’re back into your everyday you know, zone. If you don’t kind of have that reconnection or you’re taken away from that connection, you can kind of go back to normal levels after so many months. So our goal is what we’re trying to do with the military doors. Even if folk veterans don’t go to our programs, having programs available, having the VA look at recreational therapy and other alternatives. We don’t say that we can cure every veteran because talk therapy medicine is very important. We’re not going to replace doctors and therapists and psychiatrists, but we consider this a supplement and it can be a very positive supplement and what’s even more powerful is the fact that you know anybody can do it I’ve really led trips where we had you know, wounded warriors, veterans who have suffered from traumatic brain injury or combat injuries missing limbs or you know dealing with severe PTSD and just getting past that initial stage of just getting out there and once they get out there people come together and support that person no matter what and and you won’t be you won’t be left alone, you won’t be stranded and I guess the hardest thing even with that research I can tell that research to like the average vet, like I don’t give a crap. The hardest folks to recruit are the army and Marines because they think going outside is like going to the field they got to do drill and all that type of stuff and you’re like pardon my language, eff that you know — I don’t know if we can curse on this podcast I’ll keep it PG — so like if that I don’t want to go out to the you know that I don’t want to go out to the field you know. And my brother who’s uh who’s still active duty he’s a he’s a major right now and he was like, why would I go out to the field or you know if I wanted a thrill I can just you know make love to my wife. Oh but there’s different type of thrills, man but there’s no we’re not asking to go out in the field you’re not you’re not doing drill you’re not you know how in the field. To my Marines and army folks, this is different type of outside and you’re not going to have like a four day briefing to go out in the field. This is you’re going to go out and have fun. Safety briefings, of course depending on what you do to keep everybody safe. But you know, most of it is the outdoor adventure and getting outside so whether it’s a day hike or climb.

AB 18:51

I’ve heard that too you know, folks, veterans say you know, I don’t I don’t like camping because I did that and I did enough of that in the Army or I did enough of that in the Marine Corps or whatever. And of course you and I both know and anybody who’s like gone on an outdoor adventure knows that these are the whatever field exercise you were doing out of the back of your Humvee or in a training area or whatever is sizably not the same.

LV 19:18

It’s kind of like I refuse to like go on a ship for a long time. Because I’m like I was in the Navy. I seen enough of a ship and then I went and then in my 2008 hanging out with a friend who’s joining he was in the Finnish armed forces. And we became friends in undergrad. His name is Timmy and he I’ve visited him in Helsinki and it was like we go sail to Estonia from Helsinki. I said now I don’t want to get on the ship. That’s ridiculous. But a cruise ship is far different from the warship, it is a totally different experience. Nightclubs, you can buy booze, you got food you got you know live music.

AB 19:58

You’re not hitting your head.

LV 20:00

Hitting your head you need to go down like portholes and like, you know, you’re not in the bowels of the ship, you know?

AB 20:06

Yeah, no doors to step over.

LV 20:16

Yeah you can call the fire department, we were the fire department so that’s right put fire out

AB 20:23

Depending on what ship you’re on fewer aircraft landing right on it

LV 20:28

Yes and I was I wasn’t on a carrier which I call the pride of the Navy I was on a landing transport docker, LPD, but we still had the Harriers and the helos that would land on our flight deck so those

AB 20:41

If one of those is landing on your cruise ship you got a whole different situation.

LV 20:46

Exactly. So it was a very different experience so to my my soldiers and Marines out there, get camping and hiking in a day trip or backpacking trip is nothing like a field exercise. I think we scarred our our fellow soldiers and sailors and our fellow soldier Marines and, and the few sailors who get out and do field exercise, field exercises, but like the seabees, but it’s nothing like that this this is all for enjoyment. Or to get the benefits of nature, you’re not yeah, doing field exercises.

AB 21:19

You mentioned the group dynamic. And I want to touch on that a little bit because because the other thing here is something I think that anyone listening to this may have experienced outside, you know, all the things we were talking about are not exclusive to veterans, so much as we’re discussing why they are exclusive to veterans, but this idea of a group dynamic outside, that you have a group of people who are all experiencing the same level of challenge or the same level of newness or the same level of discomfort and you are going through that as a unit not to use the word unit that might be triggering for some people but as a group, you’re you’re experiencing this in a group dynamic. So you’re all overcoming the same thing and this builds a bond in a way that you don’t have when you do something non-challenging. It also builds a bond in a way that service members might be familiar with through their military service that that unit dynamic and it creates friendships it creates understanding and it creates a safe space where you can deal with other things that you’re going through because you’ve created this trust with the people around you while going through something challenging. Is that am I nailing it or is that off base?

LV 22:42

No No You’re absolutely right. That kind of magic window of three days out in the backcountry yeah and kind of watching their group come together I’ve got to be honest with you me I’ve run or lead in partake in many many outings over the years even prior to this you know military, outdoors work and even kind of with my Sierra Club work so this kind of put in the context of the last almost six years there’s only been one time where we had to ask a gentleman to leave. Besides that, it’s kind of like that harmony, they the group comes together and is just like wow man we really did this we floated down this river we climbed we did this climb we did this like backpacking trip and slept on the freakin stars like that’s, yeah, amazing. And I grew up in a city. So I felt like one or two stars and I don’t know those are like, you know, planes or like pollution so honestly I never slept under the stars. So that these these are the things it’s called the science of awe and it is measurable in the lab. So I think you’re absolutely right. And I think the folks who are listening excuse me listening to this podcast. might know that and if they have some people who are skeptical — friends or family or shipmate or a battle buddy, we have if you want to call it who’s skeptical about it, bring them out. I had a buddy of mine who I served with I consider him like a brother because you’d be able to build this camaraderie in the military. I think it’s unlike any other space that we exist in. And this isn’t to like you know, glorify war or you know, combat or anything like that. But it is this camaraderie you get because you’re with these individuals 24/7, 7 days a week in highly stressful situations. So you get to know folks and people of different backgrounds, but he was skeptical about like, why would I go outside you know, I’m in San Diego chillin, I could do an IPA. I go to bar like why. I was like, just come on his river trip, you and your wife and I converted them to avid outdoors and he came on a Green River trip with me last month. Him and his wife for their anniversary a couple years ago, they just went to the backcountry, out of California out San Diego and just camped out for a couple of days and grilled out there and had a great tim. So it’s kind of just like to get your mind away from the everyday hustle and bustle and just kind of be a little bit quiet

AB 25:14

Yeah yeah. I you know it’s that it’s you know touching back and group dynamic I’m remembering even we we haven’t done this in the last year because really the what happened was the pandemic cancelled it and then we lost the habit. But before that, we would go every week to a community run on Monday nights. Okay, so sunshine, rain, hail one time we ran in like knee high flooding. Or in a lot because we’re in Alaska 60 mile an hour winds and negative temperatures. Right. So I mean, that’s just a Tuesday, or in this case, Monday, right? What folks down south might call a hurricane we’re like eh, It’s the evening. I don’t know.

LV 26:03

So Chicago in the the winter. Being born and raised here. So we get the negative temperatures.

AB 26:10

Yeah, you know, I’m talking about so let me know, right? You go outside with a group of people who are all experiencing the same weather related challenge. The run itself is not very far we’re talking, you know, 5k. Okay. But you’re out there in an unpleasant condition. You’re the a small group of people who showed up for this, despite the unpleasantness, you do the thing and then you sort of you go and have dinner and you revel in the fact that you all did this hard thing together and it builds this group bond in a way and I don’t wouldn’t know these people were not for us all going out there and then meeting afterwards to talk about how terrible it was right? Or how great it was or how awesome it was or that cool sunset or whatever, right? How the stars showed shown tonight, just kind of like that or that you’re talking about but it doesn’t it there’s something to be said for moving through this challenge as a group that builds that understanding and that that supportive bond.

LV 27:12

Yeah and what’s even crazier is, you know, I’ve experienced that where I have a similar group of folks that I’ve kind of constantly with but then there’s some individuals because our program is National that I’ve done it in Texas or out west in Colorado and we might not see each other for a couple years and then we come back for outing and it’s like we’re all friends just reconnected and we’re like we’re threes we start off where we left off it so you know there’s there’s a ribbing and some some jazz and we’re making poker fun folks and things like that but it’s all it’s all a good fun, you’re having a good time and it’s really really really fun and you just kind of you build that those relationships and you can never kind of take those away, So yeah, I can go to different parts of this country and be like hey, you know calling my vet buddies up and they go hey, you can keep crash at my place we can go here and check this place out. Or one of the one civilians who come on the military outdoors outsides with us and they go hey you can you can stay up in my place. I got some friends if they came through Atlanta, Georgia, I go hey, you’re welcome to come down here and we can go I can take some places in the city that you will think you’re in the backcountry, because I’ve explored all these places. It just something that you do. So the pandemic happen. And I know a lot of veterans, especially we’re kind of disconnected from those, those groups, those communities, that they have built post pandemic, things are opening it back up, we have a vaccine, hopefully folks are getting that but we did lose some of our fellow veterans joined this pandemic, through the isolation. It was challenging even for me, and one of the things that kind of really, really helped me out was solo outings. It was just be me and my, my crazy German Shepherd, Mayor. It’s crazy because you know, no one can sneak up on me. He was very protective.

AB 28:57


LV 29:00

Sweet dog, he means well, but he is he’s a he’s a vicious beast. Everybody thinks that pit bulls are mean — pit bulls nice. She, she’s a pushover. Anybody can come steal her. She’ll go with you. If you got to treat she’s yours. Not him. He is. He is vicious. But he’s a he’s a great dog. He loves long hikes. And that’s what I did on the pandemic, these solo hikes it just kind of gave me that peace of mind. And I used to bring my headphones and listen to music. But then I just like, just be me and my thoughts and with the dog. And sometimes I go and I wouldn’t see and not a single soul. And sometimes I see some other people and say hello to them on trail. But when people get outdoors, in those spaces, even if it’s like embracing the suck, because in the south east is going to rain on you. No matter what you do, where no part of country I mean, when you go outdoors for multiple days, you’re going to get some rain. If you don’t like getting wet, just get over it. You’re going to get wet, but people are always in the pleasant mood. And is this a good time?

AB 29:58

Okay, so you talked earlier about pursuing mental health and medication and I don’t want to, or mental health help rather and medication and I don’t want to discredit either of those things. So just quick caveat, if mental health intervention from a provider or pharmaceutical intervention from a doctor are awesome tools that we and we should use the tools we have and please don’t be taking medical advice from me because I’m not a doctor. But I am wondering if you think in your experience from working in this space, that Americans make things more complicated necessary the necessary and we maybe rely on those things as a first or even worse the only line of defense and I’m thinking in particular pharmaceuticals when we have nature-based solutions that we could be using as well or instead again, with the advice of a doctor and and all of those important things.

LV 31:29

That’s a good question.

AB 31:33

Don’f flush your meds Okay, guys, like if you’re taking if you have a prescription, or you’re using medical advice from an actual Doctor, please consult with them. But the question stands.

LV 31:46

So no I appreciate the question. And I stand at a very unique position, because my background is in social work. So you know, we learn about mental health, mental illness, in the challenges that folks living with those mental health issues have no and I’m one of those person people who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, post, post my service years, and just kind of from, you know, growing up as a child in the foster care system so these things have shaped my life and I’ve dealt with my own mental challenges and I wrote about them on my on my website. So you know, if you are you know, need help, yes, do seek professional medical advice and professionals, Counselor, therapists, psychiatrists, doctors — so that that’s the caveat. But the other piece is that nature and healing through nature can be a supplement to that. So what I’m trying to say that like you go outdoors and you’re completely heal, and also you’re never really truly, and this is my perspective as a social worker and speaking here, you’re never truly heal from your, your mental health issues, it’s juust you learn how to imagine and cope with better ways. So instead of going like with your buddies and getting like, you know, blackout drunk and get into a fistfight, take a hike in the woods. You can go go fishing, you can go to your local park, do some yoga. Play a game of pickup basketball or football. So you’re getting physical activity, you’re being outdoors. Because I think also another thing is we think we talk outdoors, especially the outdoor industry. And that’s what I hope is changing is that you have to go to some far off place, right? You’re in Alaska. So people might think go to Mount Denali and have a challenging expedition out there. You can go to your local community, there’s there’s parks, you have YMCSAs you have public pools, you can still get outside the local communities. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, there’s a park that I’ve been utilizing since the system pandemic started, that’s only a couple blocks from me, when I, when I lived in Chicago, my hometown, we had the lakefront, and there’s lots of city parks along the lakefront. So, you know, you can get to them. Whether you have a car, whether you have to take the public transportation, they have them in your cities, and if you don’t, you can work with an organization like the Sierra Club, to you know, make sure that you have access to a green space, because I think that’s inherent for all peoples wellbeing. And there’s actual research studies that show that just being outdoors in nature, or seeing, you know, by seeing trees just for like 10 minutes can improve people’s moods, moods. So it’s out there and obviously this is not going to replace medicine or talk therapy for folks dealing with mental health issues. But we just advocate that this is a supplement, getting outside.

AB 34:43

So I’m wondering though, and I and I kind of I guess I’m kind of basing this off of experience watching the Department of Veterans Affairs or the VA and their hospitals work with specifically with veterans where it seems awful lot like they’re quick to prescribe something, versus working with somebody to do medication if needed in conjunction with other types of therapy, including talk therapy, right? But also including heading out into a park or green space.

LV 35:24

Yeah, so no, that’s a good question, Amy. And also, someone who’s experienced this too like to go into the VA and the doctors, like, you have generalized anxiety disorder, here goes these pills. Here goes this long scroll that you’re never going to read that has all the side effects. Take them, and you’re good to go. And then you take them and you feel like a zombie for like, months on end. And you’re just like, this is not really good. I’m not really happy. I don’t really said, I don’t really feel anything. So yes, but I do think one thing, Amy, I think that’s slowly changing. And I think that because of not just veterans, like myself, and this is this is there’s so many other individuals out there, guys, girls, and everything in between, who are doing this really great work. And it’s, a it’s the VA, so it’s a large, you know, government organization that is slow to change. But I talked to therapists inside the VA Health System who are doing recreational outdoor therapy, I talked to veterans who are going to school, to specifically learn that or are taking my path of becoming a social worker to give back to the veteran community. So it’s going to be up to us to kind of change the VA because we are the VA without veterans, there is no VA. So that’ll be up to us to kind of turn them around.

AB 36:46

That’s such a good point,

LV 36:46

The work in my organization. That’s what were our ultimate goal is to be like the VA look at this as legit. And I think there is lots of research,and there’s lots of folks getting into this type of work. And there’s lots of antidotal evidence, as we both know, personally, about how this can benefit folks with a bette,r especially our men and women individuals who serve. No, sir.

AB 37:11

Yeah, no, I think that’s I think that’s a really great point about changing it from the inside, because the other thing is like if you go into one of those appointments empowered with this idea of, you know, hey, is there a recreational — do you have any recreational therapy resources or therapeutic recreation? Which, of course, are two different things, right? Do you have any resources like that, and then give the provider at least an opportunity to bring them up? Or to know that someone’s interested in that, you know, and yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s really valuable. I’m wondering if you think there is a risk of over complicating or over programming. So like, the other direction, right, where we say, where we forget this idea of, you can just go take a park, sorry a walk in the park with your dog and Atlanta, and we instead are overcompensating and suggesting, you know, to really use outdoors, you have to go on a three day trip with, you know, Military Outdoor Program at Sierra Club.

LV 38:16

Yeah, well, I mean, no, you’re absolutely right. I do think we can overcomplicate it, and we have to change what the outdoors is, is it just being outside your house? Yeah. And that could be in your local community, because you have those green spaces. And if you don’t, you know, work with community organizations to get those green spaces, in your communities, their respective communities. Because I do think I’ve been working in this industry for about over five years now. And it is this idea that you have to go to the Grand Canyon or go to Denali, or go to Costa Rica, and do some crazy like adventure and nothing wrong with it, you know, but that’s it’s a lot of barriers that prevent many, many people from doing that, you know, people have worked, they have children. There, they have access issues. So these are barriers that we all get to come together to work with. And all these things affect all Americans, but they also said veterans because veterans are a reflection of the United States. That’s the people who serve our people from the communities, whether they’re small town city or that are a little, a little community that we all come from those places. So whether it’s a city or a small town, we all come from that so we still face the same challenges. But the outdoor industry has had this ideal that you have to do these big, epic expedition to be outdoors and being outdoors. It’s like what little kids do like they go outside and play. That the kids are still playing with getting outside having a good time you know getting getting their hands dirty. Getting in I was little I was a little rough house little boy so I my little jean pants will always have like holes in the knees. Because I’ll just be you know, digging up worms and oh, running around, and riding my little Mr. T Big Wheel. So sometimes we could just be a kid again, we’d have to make it like we have to go, we need all this gear and we got to go to REI because it is expensive. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart or Target has some gear there too, that is much more affordable for the average average Joe, not knocking REI, they’re great people work, they’re great. I have lots of relations with them. But that stuff is the price.

AB 40:30

I understand, but I go there anyway.

LV 40:33

But there are barriers for certain people to still get out there. So you don’t need to have like a master’s degree in social work. You don’t need to be a PhD at some big university researching, you don’t need to be a medical doctor, you can just go outside, whatever you like to do if you just like to take a walk around the block. I mean, that’s helped out my mother who was dealing with health issues. And just kind of during the summer, she would just go walk around the block and that’s so you can you can get outdoors I think we just have to change what we think about that because people aren’t getting outside, it just this divide or like the pros are like you have to go snowboard or skiing to like be outdoors versus just like, you can just have a backyard barbecue or just go to your local park and do something there

AB 41:15

And you can get out or not even have a local park you can go sit on your front stoop. I mean, we always say you’re out any time out any outside time is better than no outside time. And for sure. They’re like, Is there a continuum of really good versus kind of meh? Okay. Yes, of course there is right? Of course, going to Denali or of course, going to Costa Rica is going to feel better than sitting on your front stoop in the city. Right? But like, let’s not pretend it’s not. But that being said, if your front stoop in the city is what you have access to, of course, that’s better inside your house, like, you know, and we actually talked to a researcher on the podcast not terribly long ago, Dr. Kathleen Wolf, who talked about the research on nearby nature for us. And she pointed out that and and I’m not suggesting guys that you that you resort to this full time because I still, you know, even Dr. Wolf agreed that heading into the backyard was important. But she noted that there’s research that shows that even staring, like focusing on, a scenic photograph of a rainforest, or a sky or something, trees, shows benefits to being not to not doing that, even that even that simple step is beneficial in a way that is tied to the same benefits you have by heading out in outside and looking at that tree. I thought that was fascinating.

LV 42:41

Oh, no, no, that’s that doctor is absolutely right. And just kind of realizing what you get. And I do think the outdoor industry needs to work on kind of breaking down those barriers, so folks can feel comfortable getting out, outside to those places. And one thing I do love is that I since moving down here to Georgia is mostly warm most of the year. And, and I’ve been on many trails throughout the state of Georgia, and what I was happy about it seeing all types of people out there, old, young, you know, different different groups of people, different races of people, people utilize these outdoor spaces in nearby nature, because somebody is parks are, you know, right next to the city of Atlanta. So we should be fine to kind of get everybody to access and also like, you know, make sure people leave no trace. But I’ve been on trails with people just trash to place? And like, you know, if you bring some trash in and take it out, yeah, cuz there’s other creatures that live there besides the humans in space. So we don’t want to just like leave a bunch of junk there. And that’s, that’s my conservation effort. That’s my soapbox for the for this podcast.

AB 43:45

I like it. Um, as we wrap up here, tell us though, since we’ve been talking about veterans, we’ve been talking about outdoors. How do you ask if people ask you how they can support veterans in their community, inside or outside? What do you what do you tell them?

LV 44:01

One of the things I could tell them is, I think most important thing is breaking down the stereotype of veterans. And I think we were talking earlier about the Vietnam-era kind of this idea of this, this so called shell-shock veteran, and they’re this kind of, oh my god, they’ve been scarred by war. Never there, every veterans experience in the military in our services has been the same. But at the end of the day, we’re just people. So that’s the first step, just kind of breaking your assumptions. And also one thing also I say, if they’re not just all like white guys with beards, some of us are black guys with beards, but no, but, besides, we have veterans experiences are a lot more diverse. Especially with my post-911 generation. You have a lot more women veterans. You have LGBTQ veterans, you have veterans who are you know, members of the trans community. You have disabled veterans you have you know, the older WWII veterans, the Vietnam veterans, and you have the younger veterans who are wrapping up the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who you know, there’ll be a new, unfortunate war that they’ll be on the battlefront of when I’m the old vet and am like oh, man. Now I’ll talk to the young guy, a young girl and be like, Oh, well, you go to where you serve bla, bla bla, so oin. But at the end of day, we’re all people. So. And also, one of the coolest things that I found out, and I didn’t notice when I got on 2005 is all the organizations that have been created by veterans like your husband, Luke, who serve veterans locally. And I would say, if you want to get involved, that’s a great way. What is the organization like the Sierra Club military adores, the Mission Continues, Team Red, White and Blue. See how you can volunteer, even if you’re a civilian, and you have no connection to the military and veteran community, still, you know, you can donate, you can donate your time, donate money, donate gear resources, or just come out and volunteer and meet some of the folks, men and women who serve, we don’t bite. Some of us might curse a little bit. But we’re nice people. And we are, and we always love the supportive community. So if you want to say thank you for your service, that’s, that’s the best way you can do it. And you can find local veteran organizations all throughout your community. And what I really like is that the veteran, especially our post 911 generation, has really taken upon themselves to learn from the mistakes of the past, and not, you know, leave our servicemen and women hanging. Because, yeah, folks get out the military, and people deal with challenges. There’s PTSD. There’s, you know, traumatic brain injury, there’s, you know, there’s kind of rebuilding their personal lives of people, you know, lose family, people lose themselves. And we’re trying to, you know, build a community where, even if folks are faced with challenges, you’re not broken, there’s nothing wrong with you, you went through your challenges, but we’re here to help. And there’s so many places to help. And even the VA, I know the VA gets a bad rap sometimes. And you know, they’re not perfect. But I think over the years, they’re working towards being better. And like I said earlier, it is going to be to the men and women who who used to utilize the VA to make sure it’s is better in a welcoming place for all. And that’s what we got to do so realize that the veteran community is a far far more diverse than we ever imagined.

AB 47:27

How can how can people get involved in the Sierra Club’s military program?

LV 47:32

Well, I would say that the best way to get involved with this is to reach out to your local Sierra Club chapter, because we have 65 throughout the lower-48 and, and Alaska and Hawaii, but we also have offices in chapters in Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands. So we have 400 groups. So you can find Sierra Club everywhere locally. And if you’re a veteran or civilian, or you got the first step, if you want to get veterans outdoors is kind of you know, work with your local chapter to become outings leader. And we are I’m working on a larger project where we’re building military outdoors outings with a partnership with the YMCA. So right now we’re in four different cities, San Antonio, Detroit, and Indianapolis and Jacksonville, Florida, but hopefully we’re looking to grow that in the next few years. So that’ll be another resource in this partnership, the YMCA to kind of grow this program that way to create more local outings. But if folks want to get started, just sign up to become a Sierra Club member and reach out to your local chapter or group and see what they get going and see what outings and you go check some outings out. And if you like it, you can start leading your own. And it’s whatever you want, and we train you to be outings leader. We don’t want you to be like hey, I never went kayaking before let me go do this. Stay in your lane, stay what you’re comfortable with if you are terrified of the water, stay out of the water. If you’re afraid of heights, maybe don’t go hiking in that Rockies. But whatever your own pace, even if you want to just bring some folks together to come out to your local park and just walk around the field, track, tat’s absolutely fine. You can lead those type of outings it’s whatever so that’s that’s the best way.

AB 49:15

Awesome. Okay, so have a little leftovers around here I you know, we sort of were ragging on needing too much gear earlier. But that being said, I’ve heard some fantastic recommendations in this part of our show for not just not just things to buy, really just tips or tricks or some couple people have even recommended never forgetting to carry enough snacks as their favorite outdoor most essential gear and I think that’s really on point. So with that in mind, it doesn’t have to be something that you buy. Do you have a favorite or most essential outdoor gear item to recommend for us today?

LV 49:53

I’m gonna se be honest with you, like I told you earlier, even if the forecast is going to be a week of sunshine and hot weather you’re gonna get rained on so always bring an extra change of clothes and and waterproof gear. I got a nice little jacket I got from Marshall’s that was only like 40 bucks and it’s waterproof, I’ve been rafting in it, I’ve been hiking in it, I’ve got drenched pouring rain and I’m still good to go. So if you’re in a very tropical or subtropical climate like Georgia bring your bring your bring your waterproof gear it’s the best thing you can get and you don’t have to go spend you don’t have to go to North Face and buy one jacket for like $200 that’s what I say.

AB 50:40

I you know that applies in the northwest that applies in Alaska that applies all sorts of places this

LV 50:46

Get your layers, get that down jacket if you’re going to be some places cold, hey, I’ve camped in Utah where like the temperature is 80 degrees or 90 in the daytime. And then at nighttime, it’s like, you know, 32 or 3 and you freeze — those layers but but I say I caveat is the waterproof gear because it’s going to rain you are going to get wet.

AB 51:09

All right, final thing we said earlier, we pretended we’re hanging out around a campfire and a non drought location. Walk us out though, just sort of envisioning your favorite outdoor moment if there’s a moment in time outside that you harken back to when you just close your eyes and think of that best moment outside. Where are you and what are you doing?

LV 51:36

So I’m going back to 2018 I believe, and there was a solar eclipse and we were lucky enough in this state to be in the path of totality and my wife thought it would be a very nice birthday gift post birthday gift to take me on a canoe trip with a group in North Georgia to paddle out and see that solar eclipse and we did and I was joke and say it’s the most beautiful thing Ive seen besiudes wife but it is perhaps one of the most surreal and serene and most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had to experience and outdoors and just in general. The only thing that can compare to that was my time in Big Bend National Park and it’s pretty windy out there so we didn’t set up a tent because the tent would have blown away in my pack my sleeping bag and pad almost blew away but we found it in the dark yay us but the sleeping under the stars and I just I got a laser show for absolutely free, so I think those so it’s kind of hard those but I think the only place my wife went to canoe is very one of the greatest memories. And I almost was a bad bad boy I was like I’m gonna flip the canoe and like have her go for swim but I then had to realize that to drive back three hours later so probably not do that. So I thought against that cuz I was like she she was she’s a little worried out there on the boat for a while but I’m like I calmed her down. Then maybe I actually just dump her for fun but I’m not a guide I’m not gonna dump her off if I was a guide I’d just say let’s just do it, make this make this trip more interesting. But then I also realized I have to drive back with her. Well, the guide dump people, they don’t have to drive back home.

AB 53:23

That’s right. Thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. We sure appreciate you.

LV 53:30

Thank you very much.

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