Part 3 of a Continuing Series
As many as 22 veterans take their lives every day in the United States. But the News4 I-Team discovered that one of those deaths inspired a possible solution for those who return from war only to struggle with depression at home.
Veteran Jake Wood, moved by the struggle of his fellow vet Clay Hunt, has developed a mobile app that will make it easier for veterans to connect with other veterans in their community for support.
The app is called POS REP, after the military term "position report," sent out by patrols in the battlefield to let headquarters know their location.
Tours in Iraq and Afghanistan brought Wood and Hunt together. “Clay and I served together in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009," Wood said.
That bond continued after returning home from war, when they created Team Rubicon. The non-profit response team is made up of military veterans, using their battlefield skills in disaster zones such as the earthquake in Haiti and tornadoes in Oklahoma.
But those humanitarian efforts could not erase the wounds of war for Clay, who battled depression. "He struggled and grappled with the idea that he came home, that he survived and many of our friends didn't," Wood said.
Wood says he watched his best friend grow more isolated, even after moving closer to home in Texas. “He hadn't yet found anyone that could be in his support network that could relate to his experiences overseas."
In March 2011, Hunt took his own life, leaving family and friends wondering what they could have done to prevent it.
It was at his memorial that Wood realized there had actually been another support group for Clay -- one Wood never even knew existed.
"There were three Marines that all lived within ten miles of where Clay lived, and these were three Marines that we had actually served with together in Iraq."
That was the inspiration for POS REP, which is available in the App Store and is coming soon to Google Play.
In the app, vets - whose military service is verified before they participate - can connect with other vets in their local area using GPS technology, can keep up with vets they served with, and can communicate and find resources for veterans.
The app's website calls POS REP "the social network for the 0.5%."
"This generation has grown up at the doorstep of technology, and they’ve had video games and computers and cell phones in their hands since the moment they entered junior high," Wood said.
“It’s an awesome app," said Janet Kemp of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Mental Health Program for Suicide Prevention.
Kemp said while the V.A. is making progress with suicide education and new resources like a crisis hotline, the process for getting treatment can still be too burdensome.
She thinks non-profits can fill in some of those gaps. "We recognize it's going to take a community to help these folks get back and get assimilated," Kemp said.
"Certainly, if someone develops a communication app or an awareness app, we'll promote it and help people use it," she said.
Wood recently brought his idea to Capitol Hill, hoping to get federal support. He told a Senate panel, “We set out to solve the problem using the most ubiquitous tool on the planet, our smart phones."
“We feel the first line of defense toward veteran suicide is having a peer support group that is there to help support people when they're at their lowest point," he said.
The app is currently in a test phase with a small group of users. But Wood hopes to reach a half million veterans over the next 18-months, creating a mobile band of brothers, battling a war here on the home front.
Wood said, "We do think we can make a difference. We do think we can help solve this problem."