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Vets get an online forum. It's about time

On Veterans Day comes news of the rollout of a social network for military veterans. Great news, but why didn't Uncle Sam think this up awhile ago?

I wish they had something like this after my discharge from the military. But that was years before the Internet had gone mainstream.


So it is Tuesday that a couple of nonprofits--the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Ad Council--debuted a social-networking site where veterans can get questions answered and reach out to others who have served.

Great move and long overdue. The generation that serves in Afghanistan and Iraq grew up online and if some sort of virtual community can help speed veterans' readjustment to civilian life, more power to it.

"It allows us to reach the service members on a medium that they are very accustomed to," the Associated Press quoted Todd Bowers, director of government affairs for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

In announcing the Web site, the Ad Council noted that 20 percent of the soldiers returning from the two conflicts suffer from mental health problems "ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as a result of their service."

When I spoke with Priscilla Natkins, the executive vice president at the Ad Council, she correctly noted that no veteran returns from war unchanged and the idea was to smooth the transition to peacetime.

She pointed out to me that during World War II about 12 percent of U.S. citizens served in the military. These days it's just one half of 1 percent of the population.

"Vets feel isolated and alone," she said, adding that what they yearn for is a forum where they can talk with each other. Thus the idea for an online site about and for veterans.

True enough. And so my question is this: seven years after we first sent troops into combat in Afghanistan and five years after the Iraq war began, why didn't the federal government think of something like this earlier? I tried to contact someone at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but, because of the holiday, had no luck getting a live human being to return my call before posting this. I did, however, note that the VA Web site carries the following notification:

Warning! Our goal is to respond to your inquiry within 5 business days. If you are experiencing a medical emergency or in need of immediate crisis counseling, please go to your nearest medical facility Emergency Room or call 911. If you are in need of immediate crisis counseling, please contact VA's suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK; counselors are available 24/7 to help.

Think about that. On Veterans Day, that's the best we can do for the men and women who stand on the front lines? Thankfully, some folks in the private sector have a clue.