NEW YORK – For young veterans returning from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, the process of re-entering society can be daunting, especially if they have been injured or have struggled with mental health problems.
A new, free Web portal wants to help these warriors find the services they need in an environment they are comfortable in: the Internet.
Warrior Gateway is designed with Google Inc. and social media in mind to make its intended audience as comfortable as possible. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, generally in their mid-20s, grew up with e-mail, keep in touch using Facebook and are familiar with online communities that stretch across time zones.
"Our generation of vets exists within a social media landscape," said Tom Tarantino, a former Army Captain who now works as the legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "We couldn't navigate a city without Google Maps, without Yelp."
The site lets veterans, their families, friends and caretakers search for services based on an extensive range of categories, including geography, eligibility and even user ratings inspired by Yelp, a restaurant and shopping review site.
A veteran returning from Iraq could, for example, search for job-mentoring services within 100 miles of New York City and filter the results so that only the highest-rated services pop up.
A search for "PTSD," for post-traumatic stress disorder, within 20 miles of Dallas will bring up the Dallas arm of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program. The program's profile on Warrior Gateway lists an address, a phone number and a short description and provides an option to comment on the service and rate it on a five-star system.
Besides posting reviews, users can also add services not already listed, the same way Yelp users can post new restaurants on that site.
Veterans transitioning out of the military are generally given "a stack of paper, a binder, a book that says here are the organizations that can help you," says Devin Holmes, executive director of Warrior Gateway.
With the site, veterans no longer have to pore through piles of papers or long alphabetized databases.
"If you're searching for these resources you are already under a tremendous amount of stress," Tarantino said. "You're not going on Yelp to find a great sushi place. It needs to be intuitive; you don't want to sift through pages and pages of links."
Warrior Gateway is privately funded by individual donations and grants. It is not funded by the government or the military.
The government does finance an online program called Military OneSource, but that is only available to those on active duty or in the reserves — not veterans.
Another, National Resource Directory, offers an extensive list of resources, but because it is tied to the U.S. government it cannot show preference to various services, so it doesn't let users rate them.