Advancing National Service

This Mobile App Is Preventing Veteran Suicides

October 21, 2014
This Mobile App Is Preventing Veteran Suicides
This app lets veterans know when others are nearby and how to guide them towards getting help. Ben Sklar/Getty Images
The developers describe it as "the social network for the 0.5 percent."

In 2011, Jake Wood attended the funeral of Sergeant Clay Hunt, a fellow Marine Corps veteran who suffered from PTSD and depression that committed suicide just a few months after he left the military. While there, Wood learned that three other Marines from their unit lived near Houston, but didn’t know Hunt was there.

Wood had the thought that if these Marines had known where their fellow comrades settled after leaving the military, it might’ve enabled someone get Hunt help before it was too late.

Inspired by this idea, Wood teamed up with veterans Anthony Allman and William McNulty to create an app that would let former service members know when other veterans were nearby, and if needed, guide them toward organizations offering help. The app, called POS REP (military jargon for “position report”), uses GPS data to plot veterans and resources on a map and aims to stop the disheartening number of veteran suicides — an average of 22 a day, according to the VA.

When veterans using the app draw near a fellow vet, they receive a message saying who “has entered [their] perimeter.” (For safety reasons, it doesn’t show a vet’s exact location unless the vet wants to make it known.) And when users are near a career or counseling center for veterans, POS REP also sends an alert.

The app is available across the country, but for now according to Hayley Fox of TakePart, it works best in Los Angeles, where the developers are working with the Volunteers of America’s “Battle Buddies” program.

Allman explains its purpose to Kenrya Rankin Naasel of Fast Company: “We’re now in our 13th year of combat operations in the global war on terrorism that has been executed with an all-volunteer force — there hasn’t been a draft — and the burden of war has fallen on a small segment of American society. This makes transitioning out of the military and returning to civilian life particularly challenging. POS REP allows veterans to discover and communicate with a network of peers who can relate to those unique situations. Think of it as a sacred digital space where veterans can discuss issues pertaining to reintegration without judgment.”

The veterans behind POS REP hope it will help prevent other veterans from feeling isolated and that the information it provides will spur them to meet each other or just reach out online. Allman says that he recently received an email with the news that POS REP helped prevent a suicide. “Knowing that we were involved in preventing another loss of life is the reason I get up in the morning,” he says. “It really doesn’t get any better than that, considering our inspiration.”

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