Wounded Veterans Recreation Act of 2017
STATEMENT OF ROBERT VOGEL, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 355, A BILL TO AMEND THE FEDERAL LANDS RECREATION ENHANCEMENT ACT TO PROVIDE FOR A LIFETIME NATIONAL RECREATION PASS FOR ANY VETERAN WITH A SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY.
July 19, 2017
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 355, a bill to amend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to provide for a lifetime National Recreational Pass for any veteran with a service-connected disability.
The Department supports S. 355 with amendments that are discussed later in this statement. We believe that the brave men and women who are disabled as a result of their service to our nation in the armed forces should be assured of their eligibility for free entrance to our national parks and other federal public lands. This legislation would provide that assurance.
S. 355 would amend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to make the lifetime National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass available, without cost, to any veteran with a service-connected disability. S. 355 would further require the Secretary to offset any direct spending authorized under this authority to provide disability discounts using any additional amounts made available to the Secretary for the applicable fiscal year.
Although veterans with service-connected disabilities are not specifically mentioned in FLREA, our nation’s veterans who are disabled may already be eligible for a free pass called the Access Pass. This pass provides free admission for permanently disabled U.S. citizens, regardless of past military service, to parks and public lands that charge entrance fees. To be eligible for the free lifetime Access Pass, FLREA requires proof of disability as defined by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Department is sensitive to concerns that there may be some confusion among veterans about whether the Rehabilitation Act’s definition of disabled individuals includes veterans with any percentage of service-connected disability. By specifying service-connected disabilities in the law, the intent of S. 355 is to affirm that any service-connected disabled veteran is eligible for the same pass as any other individual with a permanent disability.
The Department recommends that S. 355 be amended in two areas.
Section 2(a) states that eligibility for a free pass for disabled veterans is based on “a service-connected disability as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code”. Section 101 defines “service-connected” but not “disability”. We believe that this section should be clarified to ensure that there is no question that every veteran with any percentage of service-connected disability qualifies for the free lifetime pass. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to clarify this language.
Section 2(b) would require the Secretary to offset any direct spending caused by the new authority for issuing Access Passes with funds made available to the Secretary. We would note that, as this bill reaffirms an existing practice, we do not expect that it would generate any significant direct spending. However, we are concerned that this provision would create a complex administrative burden for agencies because it would be difficult to determine and quantify the number of additional Access Passes that are being issued as a result of the enactment of this bill. We strongly urge that the bill be amended to delete section 2(b).
Chairman Daines, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you or the other members of the subcommittee might have.