How We're Using Existing Technology to Save Vets' and Service Members' Lives (and How You Can Help)

05/25/2015 09:05 am ET | Updated May 26, 2015
AP

Today we pause to honor those who gave what President Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" on behalf of our country. But as we recognize the service and sacrifice of those who came before, we must also face a societal failing to those who served, and continue to serve, our country: more men and women in uniform are dying from suicide than from combat and more than 20 veterans commit suicide each day. To neglect this truth, on this day, is a disservice to all those who have served.

Despite concerted effort by numerous organizations within and without the government, mental health issues continue to plague the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs; these brave men and women are not receiving, and often not seeking, the support they need. Active duty military personnel face a unique set of challenges when seeking mental health support: they have professional concerns regarding exposing potential mental health issues and fear being stigmatized by those within their ranks. Those who are already outside of the military face a different set of challenges -- namely the bureaucratic hurdles associated with the VA. The VA is plagued by inefficiency, an inability to hire and retain adequate mental health professionals, and faces geographic challenges associated with a patient population dispersed across the world.

When President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act -- an attempt to address some of the shortcomings within the VA -- last February, he said of providing care to our veterans, "this is not just a job for government. Every community, every American, can reach out and do more with and for our veterans. This has to be a national mission." The American people, to include the American mental health professional community, have spent countless dollars and hours over the past decade of war in service to our men and women in uniform -- including attempts to support their mental health. While much good has been done, too often the mechanism by which we attempt to provide support ignores the unique challenges these men and women face. To answers the president's call, and more importantly to provide the mental health support they need, a new system -- a new model -- is needed.

Sound Off is a non-profit IT infrastructure revolutionizing mental health support for service members and veterans alike. Sound Off connects veterans with mental health specialists working pro bono and a peer support network made up of other service members and veterans. By utilizing modern, commercially available technology, and leveraging the prevalence of smartphones, Sound Off allows users to access this support while maintaining their anonymity: no one will know the identity of the user, yet he or she is able to develop a consistent relationship with a therapist or peer. The two may speak as often as they like via our commercially available VOIP technology (also beneficial for those serving abroad). By connecting veterans from across the country with therapists and peers, also across the country, and by removing insurance, the VA and other bureaucratic inefficiency, Sound Off can provide help faster and easier than ever before.

Sound Off provides service members and veterans a third party system they can trust, and easily connects them with a support network with whom they can develop a relationship, with the anonymity they seek. We are not the answer to all issues veterans face -- more research and work is necessary pharmacologically, psychologically, and bureaucratically. However, we can change the way they seek out and speak with those mental health professional and peers standing ready to provide support. Please visit our website to learn more about our ongoing efforts: www.sound-off.com.

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