Monthly Archives: July 2013

App Links Struggling Veterans with Nearby Network of Military Friends

(Original Article by Matthew M. Burke from Stars & Stripes: http://www.stripes.com/news/app-links-struggling-veterans-with-nearby-network-of-military-friends-1.229096#)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Jacob Wood was at the funeral of a fellow Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011 when he discovered just how close potentially life-saving help had been.

The two men served in the same sniper section during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when his friend returned home, he fell into isolation and depression.

Wood discovered that on the day the Marine sergeant took his own life, three other Marines from the unit lived within just 15 miles. None knew the fellow veteran was in distress nearby.

The experience inspired Wood to help co-create a smartphone application designed to link struggling veterans with an informal network of military friends who might be just down the street. POS REP, short for position report, allows those in distress to pop off an electronic “help flare” so other users of the military social app in the geographic area can spring into action.

POS REP is among a wave of mobile apps created for the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder cases and suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. These apps are creating a breadth of choices that may aid those coping with the wounds of war, but they have also raised concerns over the privacy and safety of veterans who disclose health information and their location through their smartphones and tablets.

“This tool is really going to be a game-changer,” said Army veteran Anthony Allman, 30, who helped Wood and co-creator William McNulty, also a Marine Corps veteran, get POS REP off the ground. “I hope [the app] has an impact [on the issue of suicides], at least by showing veterans they’re not alone. There is a community around them.”

So far, the app is only designed to work with troops in the U.S., but the designers hope to expand it to the overseas audience eventually.

Health professionals have long recognized the benefits of bringing combat veterans together for support and healing in groups, including the military social networks that have recently sprung up online.

The POS REP app provides an online social network for military chat but takes the technology a step further by placing users on a local map showing where other veterans and services are located through global positioning. The users, who can see and be seen by others, can also use the app to update service record information or show support for service organizations.

Allman said the app allows veterans to lean on each other and provide help among friends. The app developers hope to add users across the United States and develop partnerships with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to add to the services listed on app maps, Allman said.

But worries over privacy and safety might hinder its growth. The app has already been criticized for potentially providing locations and personal data that could be used to target veterans.

Allman said POS REP users can choose whether to be seen on the network map through the app settings and only approximate positions are provided. The development team works with partnering organizations to verify that people joining are in fact veterans and is working to further protect the network from non-veterans.

The DOD declined to comment on POS REP but said security and privacy are top concerns when it comes to such applications.

The DOD itself has developed a wide range of mobile apps — some harvest personal health data and also use GPS — to assist veterans and service members with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Department apps include BioZen, which collects bio-feedback data such as respiratory rate, skin temperature and brain waves from users using mobile devices, and T2 Mood Tracker, which allows users to record changes in behavior and monitor their mental health. According to the department, the mood tracker application has gained popularity outside the military community.

DOD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said servicemembers and veterans should be cautious when choosing apps for their mobile devices.

“With constantly evolving technology, like GPS software, it’s incumbent on individuals to make smart decisions regarding their privacy,” Christensen wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

New Bills Help Service Members & Veterans with Education

(Original article by Leada Gore on al.com: http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/07/supporters_hope_military_educa.html)

Supporters say a pair of recently signed military-focused bills– both dealing with education for service members and their families – could give Alabama an edge in any future Base Realignment and Closure reviews.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bills in a ceremony held in Montgomery at the end of June. The bills were drafted by the Military Stability Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey. The commission’s goal, according to the governor’s office, is to advocate for the state’s service members, respond to the effects of sequestration and prepare for future BRACs.

Pentagon officials have pushed for a new round of BRAC starting as early as 2015 but the proposal has been panned in Congress, including by virtually every member of the Alabama delegation. Still, with sequestration trimming military operating budgets and impacting force readiness, supporters of the bills said Alabama should put itself in the best position possible as the Pentagon looks to shed excess inventory.

“Anything we can do to reinforce Alabama’s role as a good host to military installations, families, and veterans, like these two measures the governor signed, is a positive step toward giving our state a competitive edge in the BRAC process,” Ivey said.

The state is home to four major military installations: Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ft. Rucker in Dale County, and Anniston Army Depot. It’s also home to more than 11,896 active duty members, 22,099 reserve and National Guard personnel and more than 420,000 veterans, according to the governor’s office.

Education credit for military service

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, allows military members and veterans to receive academic and professional licensure credit for skills they acquire in the military. Education advocates have long championed giving military members credit for skills acquired in the service, saying it recognizes real-world learning while helping service members and veterans complete their degrees.

Under the provisions of the recently signed bill, state public education institutions, community colleges and technical schools will award education credit to veterans taking courses that were part of the student’s military training or service. It also provides that some Alabama licensure boards will credit military education, training and service completed as credits towards professional licenses or certifications.

This is a common sense way to show our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of members of our military and their families while stationed in Alabama

Lee said the law allows students to take advantage of the unique skills they learned in the military.

“Often, these brave individuals spend years gaining valuable experience in their job field before they leave the military. This bill exempts them from having to go through the long and cumbersome process of having to pay for exams and wait for certifications before they can get back to work,” he said.

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City.

Tuition changes

The other bill, sponsored by Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, in the House and Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison in the Senate, extends in-state tuition fees for active service members, their spouses and dependents that are stationed in Alabama.

The change will prevent service members and their families from paying higher out-of-state tuition.

“This is a common sense way to show our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of members of our military and their families while stationed in Alabama,” said Sen. Holtzclaw, a retired Marine Corps Officer. “It’s also a positive way to show how important members of the military are to our state and our state’s economy as we anticipate the next round of BRAC.”

The bill also extends in-state tuition to members of the Alabama National Guard who stay in the Guard while enrolled in school after two years of service and to veterans of the armed forces who have served on active duty for two years and have received an honorable discharge; are currently serving in a reserve unit; or have been assigned to a service-connected disability.