Empowering veterans to raise their voices

Aminatou Sow is director of digital engagement for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a Knight Foundation grantee. Photo credit: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Veterans across the United States are experiencing shockingly long waits to get their disability claims processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 500,000 of them are in a backlog – waiting at least 125 days and in many cases, 500 or more days – to get help for the back pain, post traumatic stress disorder, ear ringing and other conditions they suffered through service to the country.

With support from Knight Foundation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has launched an interactive tool, “The Wait We Carry,” that helps the public visualize the human toll the Veteran Affairs disability backlog has taken on returning veterans.

The tool, designed by the socially conscious digital firm Periscopic, communicates both the tragedy and scope of the problem by sharing the stories of individual veterans. By creating a visualization tool in which the individual stories matter as much as the aggregate, we’re empowering veterans to collectively raise their voices. “The Wait We Carry” also helps local activists and media better follow veterans’ issues in their communities, as well as help the private and nonprofit sectors direct resources and support where it is most needed.

“This project demonstrates the power of joining design and data to help communities understand and solve problems,” said Michael Maness, vice president of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

The Wait We Carry” has been featured in such outlets as Yahoo News, Foreign Policy,  The Atlantic and The Spirit of War. There’s also been an enthusiastic reception on social media, with the link to the site being tweeted and retweeted more than 3,200 times.

Found husband on http://t.co/1LGGgE5ya6 He has been waiting over 954 for two of these injuries. @iava #veterans pic.twitter.com/y2hI4WqgEG — Kelli L. (@reeeeeejects) June 24, 2013

The @iava and @PaulRieckhoff are doing a great job raising awareness about the disgraceful #VABacklog. Check out http://t.co/GO9XFkMC4i — The Ulysses Project (@ProjectUlysses) June 24, 2013

Explore veterans’ experiences waiting on a disability claim in @IAVA‘s new interactive: http://t.co/oU96dGjlTK #VAbacklog — CIR (@CIRonline) June 20, 2013

This is so powerful. @iava‘s visual data showing the human toll due to the VA’s backlog. Definitely take a look: http://t.co/M0WSsaUYbs — Meighan O’Toole (@meigs) June 20, 2013

You can explore the tool for yourself at www.thewaitwecarry.org.

By Aminatou Sow, director of digital engagement for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America @aminatou