San Francisco VA Health Care System
VA W.A.R.I.O.R. Program
The San Francisco VA Health Care System’s Wellness and Recovery Incorporating Outdoor Recreation (W.A.R.I.O.R.) Program closes out the year with a trip to Muir Woods National Park. Thirty-five Veterans loaded up two buses and took a 30 minute ride from San Francisco VA Medical Center to Muir Woods National Monument, where they were greeted by National Parks Ranger Jasmine with a tour and breathtaking vistas. The VA W.A.R.I.O.R. Program was developed through partnerships with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the San Francisco Parks Conservancy and SFVAHCS Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center to provide an excellent opportunity for Veterans and a family member or a friend to enjoy guided national park tours. The W.A.R.I.O.R Program aims to improve Veterans’ mental health and wellness, increasing access to parks, and assisting Veterans to reintegrate into their communities, starting with park visits and progressing to volunteering and vocational opportunities. “The W.A.R.I.O.R. program has helped me focus on my road to recovery, providing me with alternatives and a support system while connecting me with following Veterans. I don’t feel alone,” said one Veteran from the Drug Alcohol Treatment program.
When we think of National Parks or any parks, the first thing most of us think about is the physical health benefits. But what about the mental and social aspects? We have all experienced some stress or anxiety throughout our lifetime. Maybe you're finding yourself less socially engaged with your community. That’s where the VA W.A.R.I.O.R. program can help. VA W.A.R.I.O.R. is open to Veterans of all generations, and is often attended by a wide variety of Veterans from the Vietnam era to the OIF/OEF generation.The VA W.A.R.I.O.R. program meets on the first Friday of each month and provides free transportation to and from the park. Mark Smith, SFVAHCS OTR/L program coordinator explains, “By being out in our parks, it helps to restore attention and mental well-being while connecting our Veterans with their community.” Mark’s vision of the W.A.R.I.O.R. program is connecting Veterans to places they may not have thought about going because of possible fears, anxiety, or maybe they just don’t know about these opportunities. Jimmy, a U.S. Navy Veteran, enjoys the outdoors and finds it challenging being in a wheelchair to enjoy some of these parks because of all the planning that goes into traveling on public transit. VA W.A.R.I.O.R has helped to bridge that gap and lessen the challenge. “I’ve enjoyed everything about VA W.A.R.I.O.R program. I would like to see more Veterans take advantage of this,” said Jimmy. Muir Woods was Richard’s third outing with the VA W.A.R.I.O.R Program. “I never thought I would catch crabs at the VA,” said Veteran Richard while reflecting on his first outing with the VA W.A.R.I.O.R. Program to Fort Point earlier this year. If you would like to attend the next VA W.A.R.I.O.R. event, please contact Mark Smith, program coordinator at 415-609-7986.