You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Tech's Networking Vets Back Together Again. And Not Just the Young Ones.

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, November 11 2010

Where military veterans live in the United States, with increasing greenness indicating increase in the percentage of veterans as compared to the population as a whole. Image source: The U.S. Census Bureau.

Organizers who work with military veterans will tell you that retirement from service can involve a huge cultural shift, one going, often very quickly, from the hyper-social community environment of military service, one built on human-to-human relationships, to what can amount to extremely isolated existences back home. The web can, those who work in the field believe, step in as a proxy for the networked aspect military service. And, in doing so, make the transistion back to civilian life less painful, more natural, and ultimately more successful.

That, indeed, is the case being made today, Veterans Day in the U.S., by Tammy Duckworth, who's both an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs and an Iraq War vet herself. But Duckworth has an insight from her VA work -- the vets benefitting from online services and social connecting aren't necessarily just the young folks coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan:

While many people equate social media with a younger generation of users, as it turns out, Vietnam and Vietnam-era Veterans represent VA’s fastest growing population of online users.  Both VA’s website and our social media pages have allowed VA to reach out to Veterans who have traditionally been geographically isolated, as well as those who live far away from large cities or major military installations.  The majority of our Veterans live in rural communities and small towns across this great nation -- to include places like Native American tribal lands and Pacific Islands like American Samoa and Guam.  In the past, these Vets would have had to make the trek into a VA facility to get information, submit paperwork, or receive care.  That is changing.  They can now access our online resources to fill out applications, download information and even access care.  VA now provides both telemedicine to monitor medical conditions and online mental health counseling via chat rooms.  In the past year, we’ve added over 180 Veteran-centric videos to VA’s YouTube channel, which have now been viewed over 250,000 times.

Back in October of last year, the VA rushed out an ugly-but-functional website so that vets who had applied for benefits under the post-9/11 GI bill but who hadn't gotten their payments could apply for an emergency check online, so that they didn't have to make their way to their "local" VA office, which can often be many miles away.

What the VA is doing isn't particularly eye-catching or even all that "2.0"-y, but it does seem to be using technology to change the dynamic between veterans and the country that they served in a way that's more properly equitable.