Researcher launches veterans support group

Jeff Decker knows what war can do to a person. He lived it for four deployments, as an Army special operations squad leader in Iraq and Afghanistan who twice earned the Army Commendation Medal for valorous conduct in combat.

Decker, who now serves as a research assistant in Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation under Joe Felter, is the founder of March on Veteran, an organization that supports veterans suffering from mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. March on Veteran is a free, online program available to any former member of the military.

Decker joined CISAC in September, about a year after he launched March on Veteran. Felter, a special forces veteran, is a senior research scholar who studies counterinsurgencies, terrorism and political violence for CISAC.

Decker, after his military service, struggled with the transition to civilian life due to the anger, anxiety, chronic pain, and sleeplessness that PTSD caused. On top of this, he did not have access to a Veteran Affairs treatment facility. That’s when the native of Buffalo, N.Y. turned to self-educating himself on mental health treatments available to veterans.

“When I studied for my doctorate in Australia, I cobbled together a mental health program to help myself. Now I’m sharing that and making those resources available to other veterans with the same needs,” said Decker, who earned his doctorate in international relations from Bond University, where he wrote his dissertation “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Private Military Contractors.”

So far, about 83 veterans have begun March on Veteran’s pilot program, which is a web-based and self-directed study. Decker handles almost all of the human contact. He is currently expanding the program to incorporate the veteran-to-veteran peer element with the help of other veteran volunteers.

March on Veteran is, as Decker calls it, “support for veterans by veterans.” It is a recovery program personalized to one’s particular needs and is provided by people who have lived experience. It is not affiliated with any government organization like the VA or Department of Defense to maintain the veteran’s confidentiality. Veterans can access the program or sign-up to meet other veterans online.

“This program focuses on trying to help veterans reach their personal goals instead of focusing on ‘fixing’ them,” Decker said. “We are all about improving veteran quality of life, and a big part of that is connecting with other veterans.”

With Felter, Decker will be mostly working on his Hacking for Defense class project, which uses startup methodology to innovate and find solutions for critical challenges facing America’s defense and intelligence agencies.

Before arriving on campus, Decker conducted national security and international affairs research as a RAND Corporation summer associate for two summers in Washington, D.C.