S. 119

Wounded Veterans Recreation Act of 2015

STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 119, 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

March 17, 2016
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Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 119, 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 the intent of this bill to honor the service of our veterans, but would like to work with the committee to address the issues that are discussed in this statement.

S. 119 would amend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to make a lifetime America the Beautiful–the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass available, without cost, to a veteran with a service-connected disability, as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code.  It would further require the Secretary to adjust entrance fees applicable to other visitors to ensure that there is not a loss in total entrance fee receipts due to implementation of this new pass. 

Men and women who have served in the armed forces have made tremendous contributions to this country, and we honor their service.  In 2006, the agencies began offering fee-free days in honor of veterans at recreation fee sites across the country.  Every year since 2006, the agencies have established at least one fee-free day to honor veterans.  

Although veterans with service-connected disabilities are not specifically mentioned in FLREA, many of our nation’s veterans are already eligible for a free or reduced-priced pass.  These passes include the Senior Pass, granting lifetime access to U.S. citizens over 62 for $10, and the Access Pass, granting free lifetime access for permanently disabled U.S. citizens. 

The Department is concerned with the provision in the bill that requires the Secretary to adjust entrance fees to ensure that there is not a loss in total receipts.  If enacted, this provision would require the Secretary to raise the entrance fees on all other users, including low-income families, which would put an undue burden on other visitors.  

With the fee-free day in honor of veterans, and the eligibility of many veterans for the Senior Pass or the Access Pass, we believe that the agencies are providing honor and recognition for the men and women who have served our nation in the armed forces.  If the committee moves forward with this legislation, we would like to work with you, and the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to address a number of logistical, cost and other implementation issues associated with adding this benefit.     

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any questions you or the other members of the subcommittee may have.