Tuesday, November 11, 2008
MyVetwork Offers Online Help for Veterans
MyVetwork is a non-profit social Web community that hopes to bring together virtually anyone in the veteran community, including veterans, their families and supporters.
By Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY
After Brendan Hart left the Marine Corps in 2005, he wanted to reconnect with other veterans, people who would understand what he went through and what support he might need.
Plenty of services exist, says Hart, 26, who is on medical leave from Dartmouth College because of a contaminated smallpox vaccine he was given while serving. But finding them was another matter.
Hart launched Student Veterans of America, and now he is applauding a service launching today in honor of Veterans Day: MyVetwork. It is a non-profit social Web community that seeks to bring together veterans, their families and their supporters.
"When I was making a transition out of the military, I had a ton of questions that I could not find thorough and honest answers for," says Hart, who lives in New York City.
Sometimes, veterans are reluctant to seek out services, says Jaine Darwin, a psychologist who directs Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists, a non-profit providing free mental health support to extended family of those in the Reserve and National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based in Cambridge, Mass., the group has expanded to Michigan and soon will offer services to New York and southeastern Florida.
"So much of what soldiers are concerned about feels shameful to them," Darwin says. "Soldiers are not supposed to be fearful. Soldiers are not supposed to be scared. They're not supposed to be upset by things they did."
That's why they need support.
"Soldiers have two families: a family they fight alongside and the family they come home to," Darwin says. "And when you have been fighting, you forge very important bonds.
"Veterans who come home often feel the only people who can understand them and their experience is someone else who has served."
The Web can make veterans feel safer because they don't face the people to whom they are talking, she says. New veterans who have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan also are more technologically inclined than their predecessors, she adds.
MyVetwork is meant to serve an entire community of veterans and their supporters, says John Campbell, a Vietnam veteran who is founder and CEO.
When Campbell came home from Vietnam, there was little information on getting support for either himself or his family, he says. "I remember just how difficult that was for (his family), and I also remember the sense of survivor guilt when one leaves the battlefield and your comrades are there."
Members of the military and veterans community belong to many social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook. Other sites are aimed at veterans, including USVetSpace, NavyVets and one that launched Monday, CommunityofVeterans.org. It is backed by Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Ad Council in conjunction with a national multimedia public service advertising campaign.
Campbell welcomes sites that help veterans. "This is a population that has been underserved for years," he says. "We're thrilled that everyone is finally stepping up. The launch of MyVetwork isn't about fighting for a piece of the pie. This is about growing the pie. The more resources the better."
MyVetwork is non-partisan. People connect by stating their interests or by searching out individuals. Campbell envisions mothers of veterans finding each other in times of need and more experienced veterans helping those who are just emerging from service.
Maura Sullivan, a Marine Corps second lieutenant who was fortunate to find a community with people at Harvard, where she is earning joint business and public policy degrees, hopes MyVetwork gives others the same kind of opportunity to connect.
The community, where she is volunteering her time, could provide everything from résumé help to moral support.
"I've seen some of my friends really struggle when they got out of the Marine Corps and went into the civilian world." Those people would be well served by a comprehensive social network, Sullivan says.