When Sergeant Clay Hunt left the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010 after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was lonely, depressed and battling Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). He was working as an advocate for other soldiers struck by this debilitating condition, lobbying Congress on their behalf, cycling with wounded warriors, and even appearing in PSAs discussing the issues surrounding veteran reintegration. But just months after separating from the Corps, he committed suicide, unable to handle the isolation that came with adjusting to civilian life.
At his memorial service, Jake Wood, a soldier who he’d served alongside on both tours, discovered that three other Marines from their unit lived within 15 miles of Hunt’s Houston, Texas, apartment, but no one knew he had moved there. Wood couldn’t help but think that if they had connected, their presence might have saved Hunt’s life. So he joined forces with fellow vets Anthony Allman (Chief Executive Officer) and William McNulty (Chief Expeditionary Officer) to create POS REP, a proximity-based app that uses GPS to connect veterans to each other and to resources that can help them adjust to–and thrive in–life after service. It couldn’t have come a moment too soon; the VA estimates that 22 veterans take their lives every single day.
“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,” Allman, 31, explains. “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 app, which went live at the end of 2012, takes its name straight from the frontlines. “POS REP” is military slang for “Position Report,” which means to provide your location. The fact that it’s an app goes beyond the mobile-only trend. “Mobile is ideal for the type of user behavior we’d like to encourage. We don’t want veterans sitting behind their computers posting cat GIFs all day. We want veterans engaging with each other online, but more importantly offline,” says Allman, who previously founded Cloud Corpsman, a direct import tool for Veteran’s Affairs “Blue Button” medical data. “There’s also a battle taking place in the way we consume content. Search works well if you know exactly what you’re looking for (say, for a pair of shoes), but when you get out of the military, often times you don’t know what you want or need in terms of services. POS REP uses a discovery approach to push curated information that we believe is relevant or useful based on our collective experience as veterans.”
After verifying their veteran status, users can find other registered veterans nearby and group chat with their unit on the go. The app also connects users with local resources, which, Allman says, isn’t part of the current military discharge process. “When someone chooses to leave the military, they are required to attend a battery of transition classes sponsored by various government agencies. But for transition programs to be effective, I argue they must take place in the community where you choose to reside after service,” Allman says. “With POS REP, veterans tap one button and we present options based on location. We allow transitioning veterans to tap into the local knowledge of those who are already there, and we give veteran service organizations a free mobile capability.” The result: Organizations that aren’t financially or technically equipped to go mobile are connected directly to the people they seek to serve.
And it’s working. Active users are up 64% from last year, with vets from all over the country downloading the app to their iPhones. But perhaps the best way to measure the app’s impact is anecdotally. “I recently received an email from someone detailing how POS REP was instrumental in a suicide intervention. Knowing that we were involved in preventing another loss of life is the reason I get up in the morning. It really doesn’t get any better than that, considering our inspiration,” Allman says.
Next on deck is an Android version of the app, and then they will expand beyond the U.S. “We’re taking our platform to allies across the globe; think POS REP for NATO,” Allman says. “Many of these nations are seeing a rise in mental health conditions and suicide in their veteran populations. I think it’s a moral imperative to assist our allies who came to our defense in the wake of 9/11.”