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Local Veteran highlights how experiencing nature can have a positive impact on service member's mental health

The Wounded Warrior Project is highlighting ways to help veterans with their mental health.
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Posted at 7:51 PM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-13 08:36:53-05

FRANKLIN – Franklin, Indiana Veteran Nick Bennett comes from a long line of veterans.

"My grandfathers were World War II veterans, my one grandfather was in the army. He was a POW from October of 1944 to April of 1945 in Germany,” Nick Bennett a Marine Corps Veteran who was wounded during services said. “My other grandfather was in the Navy."

All his family members made it home after their tours of duty, but there's a point that Bennett wasn't sure he would be as fortunate while enlisted in the Marines.

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"I hear a whistle off my left shoulder, and I knew what it was I knew it was big and I knew I wasn't coming home," Bennett said.

Bennett was hit with a 107-millimeter rocket while serving in Iraq in 2004. He survived but went through 26 surgeries to repair his hands, shoulder, back, and leg. Bennett's body wasn’t the only thing suffering injuries, so was his mental health. He was told he would never walk again. He proved his doctors wrong but was worried he wouldn’t be able to stay as active as he was before. He had anxiety, depression, and PTSD from being at war.

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Those feelings lead Bennett to reach out to the Wounded Warrior Project which helped him get back outside to enjoy nature. He says just getting active again was life changing for him and his family.

"It's not about the trail it's not about how far you go,” Bennett said. “It's all about finding your limitations and being able to go a little further every day. "

Getting out in nature allowed Bennett to reconnect with his family. Thanks to the National Park Service’s partnership with the Department of Defense, he and his son have visited National Parks for free. The Live Well Initiative provides free lifetime and annual passes to Veterans and other service members.

"Outside it doesn't matter what your disability is, it doesn’t matter what your fears are, " Bennet said.

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Last legislative session, the VFW urged lawmakers to wave daily entrance fees at all Indiana State Parks for disabled Indiana veterans. A piece of legislation Bennett says would be one of the best things the state could do to honor those who served.

"It’s not only for the veterans but their kids and their spouses they have paid a price too,” Bennett said. “So, to me it's one of the best ideas I have ever heard because there is so much healing going on once you unplug from life."

The Indiana DNR is offering all Veterans and active-duty members free admission to state parks, reservoir properties, state forest recreation areas, and state off road vehicle riding areas on Veterans Day. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says veterans need to present their ID or evidence of military service to be allowed in.