Mobile app removes stress of relocating for active duty and veterans

Mobile app removes stress of relocating for active duty and veterans

Kyle Bond and Ernie Scott know the challenges and stressors that come with moving to a new place – both from their active-duty military service and transition into the civilian world. They’ve had to navigate housing, employment, childcare, military entitlements, healthcare resources, new friend connections and more. Taking their experiences into account, Bond and Scott are easing the challenges of moving for active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their spouses in a single mobile app.

ARK (All-in-one Relocation) provides real estate services, communication tools, and access to local resources to help military and veteran families transition smoothly. And it’s free.

“Our mission statement is to remove or reduce the stress that the military, both past and present, experience when conducting a long distance or PCS (permanent change of station) move,” said Bond, who had to PCS several times during his 12 years in the U.S. Marines.

ARK was created by Wander Corporation – a technology company – that Bond and Scott are co-founders of and Bond is the CEO. The company is dedicated to easing the financial, community and logistical uncertainties military families and veterans relocating encounter with its community-based social media platform and real estate services provided in the mobile app. 

“Every military member has the same pains cause we all PCS and the process is never 100 percent smooth and there's always resources you wish were available, or more easily available, in one place,” said Scott, who served eight years in the U.S. Navy and 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. “That was what led to our initial thought of the app.”

The ARK mobile app will be released in March through the App Store and Google Play. Legionnaires and the military community can sign up for the app at before its official release to join the ARK community.

A shared mission that Bond, Scott and The American Legion have is to end veteran suicide and destigmatize the need to ask for help. The American Legion is bringing awareness to this mission through its Be the One initiative, and the ARK app will have a link to the Be the One resources web page.

The American Legion spoke with Bond and Scott about what the ARK app encompasses, how Legionnaires can use it to connect with veterans and active duty moving to their community, and the shared mission of Be the One.

The American Legion: How will ARK benefit military families and veterans relocating?

Bond: The app is where the military and veteran community can plan, connect and move.

Plan (relocation needs) – Normally during a PCS, the military family has to go to 40 different websites to figure out what type of house do I need, how far is it from base, where’s the commissary, how am I going to get childcare, what allowances do I have to move into that area? These are all questions that every military family has when they're conducting a move that they don't get the answer to, often until they arrive at the duty station. As part of the planning portion, we provide all that information. If you want to determine what your entitlements are going to be, we have it all the way down to where a servicemember will be able to estimate their utility costs as a percentage of their entitlements, which you just can't find anywhere else.

Connect (find new friends) – The connect portion, and I think this is where it's going to be significant for The American Legion, is you have to have somebody to connect to at the area that you're moving to. And right now, that doesn't currently exist anywhere else. My last PCS we (wife who is a nurse) moved 3,000 miles across the country. I had to rely on a realtor that I had just found online to find a place that was adequate for me and my family. While the house was listed very nicely and the pictures looked good and everything like that, there ended up being about $30,000 in damage that when you move from dual to single income, you just don't have. Had that realtor been more versed in military needs, had the realtor been more knowledgeable, there's some things that could have been made available that might have changed our decision on where we moved.

On top of that, my wife was looking for a different place to work at a hospital. We didn't know what the commutes were to base. We didn't know what traffic was like. We didn't know any of that and having the ability to connect to somebody beforehand, we would have lived in a completely different area.

As that relates to The American Legion, the connect portion is huge, especially with Be the One. Military families don't know that these resources exist. They don't know that veterans are there and they're standing by to help because they're still a part of the military community. But imagine the unique connection that can be made between someone who's in the military and someone who has served in the military. The ability to connect and immediately embed yourself into the community, as somebody who's moving to that area, is huge.

Move (arrive to a familiar community) – We have pre-vetted relocation professionals, so every realtor that is a service provider (on ARK) has a military relocation professional certificate. That is a requirement to provide services as well as the lenders that we have, they have specific training in terms of VA benefits and things like that. Those services will continue to expand to what servicemembers need, even down to something being as simple as where's the nearest tailor shop.

The idea is that no matter where a servicemember moves, no matter where a veteran moves, they will always have someone to reach out to, always have someone to connect with, and always have that pool of knowledge available at the ready in their pocket.

Q: When a Legionnaire or servicemember downloads the app, what will be the steps to setting up an account?

Bond:  When you download the app, the first thing that you're going to come to is a login screen for ID for one of our partners that verify ID with military affiliation. The reason why that's significant is because the community itself must have that verification of military affiliation. Profiles are verified because we want to make sure that when that servicemember or their military spouse reaches out, they're going to be able to connect with somebody who's in the community. The whole service is free to veterans, it's free to military. In terms of the profile itself, you can put in your veteran status, your branch of service, where you've been, what you've done, what Legion post you belong to.

Q: How will Legionnaires connect with other veterans and servicemembers moving into their community to support them? And what resources will users see?

Bond: The micro social environment is specifically tailored toward point-to-point connections and point to point conversations between people. So immediately the American Legion member would be able to just tap the menu, go to Discover, and then from Discover it is the profile of every user that is within the area that they live in. We have matching algorithms so that way people who have like interests in common can connect with each other. As an American Legion member, any person would be able to go onto the app and immediately connect with anybody who's in the area. By simply sending a team up request.

So those team-ups happen, those point-to-point connections happen.

There's a list of resources that are tailored to the servicemember during their move. In terms of their healthcare, their school liaison office if moving to a new base, things like that. You're going to have that much more access to knowledge about where to go to get those additional resources. (Other resources available to all include housing, spouse employment, healthcare, military childcare, medical resources, address change with USPS, and much more.)

Scott: Military spouses is one of our main focuses (for employment and access to resources) because they usually feel more stressed than we as active-duty members do. The military spouse is the one left figuring out how to set up the household and get the kids in school. So the stress level is definitely higher on the spouse than it is the member.

Bond: The realtor lenders are our primary service providers in the interim on the app because access to safe and adequate housing is one of the biggest problems facing the military today. It is by design that military members get 5 percent lower than the median of a given area. So when you work within those constraints, it's super important that the professional that you're working with understands that you still need to be able to get to work and get back from work, and that when you deploy or go away for training that your house is going to be well taken care of and your family's going to be somewhere that you feel is safe.

For what is yet to be developed (on the app) is going be based on user feedback. Future iterations and whatever the community says that they want to see, that's just what we build.

Q: Why was having Be the One resources on the ARK mobile app important to your mission?

Bond: That is a huge initiative with Be the One, and it's a huge initiative with our company at Wander Corporation, via the ARK mobile app. When you download the app, you're going to have the suicide hotline number (988) on the menu. It’s never going to move. It's always going to be one of the first things that you see so that way somebody can reach out immediately if they need help.

If we put the resource in your pocket, if we connect you with Be the One at a national level, anywhere you go, even if you're sitting at home, you have somebody that you can reach out to, somebody you can call and all it takes is just two clicks to open the app and dial the number.

Beyond the number, (veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their spouses) have a community that's there waiting. You don't have to have connections and friendships that fall apart when you leave the service because you go back to your hometown, and they go back to their hometown.

It's right there on your phone. You have one app that's designed to satisfy the military community’s needs.

With Be the One, it's just so synonymous with what we're trying to do in terms of reducing veteran suicide. But also in terms of making a difference and trying to reunite the two communities, really merge from serving and have served to it's just the same community at a different phase. Be the One couldn't make more sense.

Scott:  Most of us have some kind of relationship with suicide. It’s one of those things that we've got to do everything we can because suicide shouldn't be an answer for anybody, but it is. And as much as we may not understand it, it's real and Be the One is obviously a great resource and has the right motivation to connect people to services and other help. We want to be a part of that, and we want to help with the suicide rate and also reducing stress in any form that it may lead, to be that one thing to keep somebody from going over the edge to do that.

Q: Overall, why was creating the ARK app important to you as veterans who understand the need for access to community and resources during a move?

Scott: Because I was in the military for so long, I experienced a lot of moves and realized during those moves that the resources were just either not there, not good enough or just so hard to access because they were in so many places that you just kind of give up and you learn your own way of coping and dealing with it. We all make it through our PCS and we're OK, but it could be a lot better. Knowing that we can do something about it became very important to both of us.

Bond: This is our attempt at doing something so the military family as a unit has a much higher chance of success. When it comes to the veteran side, I've had several friends who have transitioned out of the military. And what I thought was interesting is, when you go to TAP (Transition Assistant Program) or TRS (Transition Readiness Program) or depending on your service, it's all about reintegration. But if you've joined the military when you're 18, you don't know what you're reintegrating into. You don't know what civilian life is like. You get trained to be this this war fighter, you get trained to be whatever the nation needs of you. Then they're like, OK, bye.

I end up seeing, especially with my friends, is just loneliness. They go back to their hometown. They're not plugged back into their community. They have to rebuild those relationships. I have a buddy of mine who said he loved the military for what it was, but he just missed hanging around with all of his friends. I want them to be able to keep that. Wherever you go, your network is always there (with ARK). Your friends are always there and then you can reintegrate and immerse yourself into a community that is waiting to receive you.

A friend of mine just moved to Tennessee. He lived there for 18 months before he found out that his neighbor, two doors down, was also a Marine veteran. We don't have to have those delays. We have all of the resources and capabilities with technology to make it happen.

From the veteran perspective, I just don't want anybody to feel forgotten.