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As New Vets Go Online, VA And Others Follow

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“It’s kind of like LinkedIn meets Facebook meets Angie’s List,” Johnson said with a laugh. Its name invokes the vanguard role of the point soldier or pilot at the head of a patrol.

TakingPoint will soon offer software that can analyze individual veterans’ service records and tell them what benefits they may qualify for, said Johnson, who served three tours in Iraq with the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group.

“The VA in some places has nine-month backlogs,” Johnson said. “Calling up the VA (for that information) … in my opinion is not what a lot of people are doing.”

The VA has long been saddled with a reputation for bureaucratic torpor, but its hospitals and benefits offices have leaped online with 150 Facebook pages, 75 Twitter feeds and a combined total of nearly 640,000 friends and followers, said Brandon Friedman, director online communications for the VA.

“In terms of reach, we’re doing very well,” Friedman said, acknowledging that some of the 640,000 online contacts are duplicates. “In terms of impact, we’re not sure yet, and we’re still struggling with how you measure that.”

The American Legion and VFW have launched Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, but the transition to the web isn’t always easy.

When the Legion wanted to start taking membership applications and renewals online, it “literally took an act of Congress,” national communications director John Raughter said.

Congress chartered the Legion in 1919 – its purposes include “to cement the ties and comradeship born of service” – and any change in the Legion’s constitution, such as new membership procedures, requires congressional action.

The Legion and VFW say their membership numbers show they’re connecting with new veterans. The Legion, with 2.4 million members, has grown by 50,000 since 2009, Raughter said.

“We don’t want to be so aggressive that we become pests,” Raughter said. “Some of the troops, their big message is, ‘Leave us alone. We’re coming home. We’re settling in.’ That’s why we’re more interested in advocacy.”

The 1.6 million-member VFW said Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up 15 to 16 percent of its total, the largest single group.

Cameron Cook, a 37-year-old Iraq veteran who is director of veteran student services at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus, tells other veterans it’s important to get involved.

“I try to tell them, ‘You know that GI Bill you’re on, that Post-9/11 GI Bill you’re on? There would be no such thing if it wasn’t for these organizations really pushing for us,”’ said Cook, a former Marine and a member of VFW Post 1.

While Cook keeps in touch with his military buddies on Facebook, he said email and online networking have limits. He insists on meeting face-to-face with student veterans in his program.

“I think it makes you feel like you’re part of something instead of just having a name on a website,” he said.

“I think face-to-face interaction makes you really feel like you belong a lot more.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Oct 1st, 2012 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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