wounded soldier, soldier computer
Jeff Chiu/AP
Army staff sergeant works on a computer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Vets Go Online for Financial Support, Friendships

March 18, 2009 04:23 PM
by Isabel Cowles
When government medical benefits fail to cover expenses, U.S. veterans have turned successfully to the Web for help, and have found social support, as well.

Vets and the Net

Many troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have found government-promised benefits lacking and have turned to the Internet to reach out to a broader network of financial and social support.

Robert Sprenger came home from Iraq to face a series of hardships. First he spent months recovering from the severe burns he suffered after a roadside bomb hit his Humvee. Then his sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and his mother was fired from her job for taking too much time off to care for her ailing kids.

The Sprengers, like many families of returning troops, found that military benefits weren’t enough to cover their increased expenses. As a last resort, the family put their story on a Web site and asked for help.

Mrs. Sprenger told NPR that asking for donations online was the most difficult part of the family struggle. "I wouldn't ever cut the Army down for any reason whatsoever," she told NPR. "I just think ... it kind of stinks, you know, that we do have to struggle the way we do."

But turning to the Internet proved a huge boon for the family: Within weeks of posting their request for a functioning washing machine on a new veterans’ assistance Web site,, a brand new washer and dryer were delivered to the Sprenger home and installed.

Other online networks are also making it increasingly easy for troops to seek help online. In addition to tapping into the general public for donations, veterans have begun using online communities to foster social relationships and get necessary personal assistance.

Last Veterans Day, two non-profit organizations—Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Ad Council—introduced a social networking site specifically for young veterans,

The site is geared toward recently returning troops who may not feel comfortable connecting with older veterans at traditional services like the American Legion and VFW. The service also provides information and forums with mental health and personal support to young veterans who may be more comfortable communicating and seeking help online.  

"Being able to blog, to go online, and to have instant information to ask questions and get an instant answer is a tremendous asset," Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Mo.-based VFW, told The Associated Press. "If the younger generation, if that's what they want, absolutely we're going to provide."

Background: What soldiers aren’t getting from the government

Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have struggled both to understand and to collect on their military benefits. CNN reported last November that many vets have made complaints against the Veterans Affairs department because the VA has been slow to file disability claims, leaving soldiers without financial recourse. Furthermore, many soldiers aren’t aware of all the benefits that exist, and therefore don’t seek proper compensation.

In 2007, the problem was widely acknowledged by a panel of medical experts who demanded an overhaul in the way veterans’ disability claims are judged, according to The New York Times. The system, which was originally developed during World War II, doesn’t even acknowledge one of the most common injuries suffered in the Iraq war: traumatic brain injury. This makes it very difficult for medical professionals to accurately judge the severity of a veteran’s situation and award compensation.

In addition to medical benefits and financial compensation, soldiers and their families have often encountered a lack of social support from traditional organizations and “family readiness groups,” or FRGs. A 2007 report by NPR showed that many such groups were lacking in cohesive leadership, causing soldiers and their families to feel both financially and socially unhinged.    

Reference: Americans supporting their troops


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