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A Vet’s View: “Camping is therapeutic for military veterans”

By Louis J. Finkle
Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology
“Camping is therapeutic for military veterans.” That is the conclusion reached after many years of observing hundreds of my “brothers and sisters.” As a researcher specializing in handicapping conditions, I find that the benefits of veterans experiencing and sharing recreational activities with other veterans become therapeutic! In mental and medical fields, we were trained to follow systematic processes that utilize structured analyses and to prescribe interventions. In clinical settings, we focused on helping clients to address psycho-motor handicaps and emotional problems. These are often experienced by military veterans. While RVing, I observe similar issues on the road. Since retiring, I have been fortunate to meet many veterans and observe benefits of connecting RVing, camping, group affiliations and social interactions. My conclusion is that “camping is therapeutic.”

Much proof exists to support this conclusion. In the military services, we spent many years in highly structured, stressful situations. We were trained to operate in teams and react to sudden, emerging threats. After leaving military settings, we were suddenly thrust into civilian social situations feeling somewhat isolated, strange and uncomfortable. The teams we participated with are now gone! We are on our own unless we have the opportunity to become team members again!

Many of us were separated from family both in time and distance. Having been team members in the military, we relied on the camaraderie of shared missions and activities. After being discharged, we often become disoriented both cognitively and missing the “teamwork” aspect. This is disconcerting, mentally. To offset this, after joining the national organization of RVing veterans (SMART) and RVing group (FMCA), I have been attending many of their activities at campgrounds throughout the country. What I discovered is that veterans gathered as a group at campgrounds regain the sense of belonging to a team again! While camping with them, most of us become cognitively refreshed, live in reality, and have fun doing so! The chip on our shoulders tends to disappear into the fabric of our new lifestyle.

Each day at a campground, I watch the smiles on their faces, observe their body language (usually more accurate than their spoken words) and hear their laughter. At night, I go back to my camper to reflect on my impressions. What I see and hear could fill a book! Not about what they say, but about observed sociological and psychological benefits growing from group camaraderie. When their facial expressions and body language confirm their positive words and actions, I know they are truly happy. The spontaneous groupings, shared activities, games they play, and campground settings really do work together!

There is no doubt in my mind that “camping with fellow veterans benefit all involved!” But how do we explain this to millions of veterans who can benefit from these experiences? What can each of us do to help those not benefiting from these pleasant experiences? More importantly, what can you do to encourage fellow veterans to join us as we “see the country we defend”?

Louis J. Finkle, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology, U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the national organization of RVing veterans S*M*A*R*T. 

ABOUT S.M.A.R.T. — The club brings military veterans, and their families together to share camaraderie, travel, camping, and support to our veterans. All active, retired, and honorably discharged veterans from U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, interested in recreational travel, and sharing the camaraderie developed in the military are welcome. This includes: Reserve, National Guard, Air National Guard, Coast Guard, and also USPHS, and NOAA. Learn more or join.

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Ray Shepherd
4 months ago

AS a Combat Marine who served in Vietnam, I found that camping was a therapeutic tool for me. I always seemed at peace when camping and hiking. I know many Veterans who camp and do a lot of hiking.

Louis Finkle
4 months ago
Reply to  Ray Shepherd

One of the goals of SMART is to establish Chapters of younger veterans with children. All of our existing Chapters with members who have average range of 50 – 80 years old. I would love to chat with RVng veterans of ages 30 -50. They are the ones who can help me establish SMART Chapters of veterans traveling with children. These would truly be “Family Chapters.! Have them contact me at … loufinkle2@gmail.com … so I can help them.

Dave Pellegrino
4 months ago

The biggest thing I see with camping at various state parks in different states is that most states offer discounted camping for resident veterans. When a person goes into the military, they are defending all the states in the United States. To me it’s a slap in the face because I don’t reside in their state.

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