This profile was prepared when Paul Rieckhoff was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Veteran services organizations have played an important role historically in protecting the interests of veterans, but the old politicized models are failing and have become irrelevant to new veterans. Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), stymied by bureaucracy, has failed to efficiently respond to the needs of this population. Paul is building a twenty-first century, non-partisan veteran’s organization, using social media tools to organize and mobilize veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bridge the disconnect between veterans and the general population. In a time when less than 1 percent of the population serves in a volunteer military, most Americans have no personal connection to servicemembers or veterans. As a result, veterans often suffer the personal effects of combat in silence, and the country does not reap the benefit of their expertise on military and other issues. Through Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paul is changing this dynamic by equipping veterans in real time with information about resources they need to manage the transition back to civilian life and become leaders in their communities. He is also providing a non-partisan space for them to organize around veterans issues and building support among the general population for the community of veterans. The result is not just better care for veterans, but a population that is more thoughtful about future military conflicts because it better understands the causes and consequences of war.