Need to prove you're a soldier? Here's a tool to do it
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 18, 2013
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Two former Army Rangers have created a way for servicemembers and veterans to electronically verify their military status, a move that gives them online access to retail discounts, could help them claim education vouchers or even land a job.
The ID.me online verification service — formerly troopid.com — was launched by combat veterans Matt Thompson and Blake Hall when they were studying at Harvard Business School in 2011.
So far, the online service has signed up 140,000 servicemembers and veterans, Hall said, and has relationships with Veterans Affairs and a number of major retailers, such as Under Armour and Regal Cinemas, who use it to offer online military deals and discounts.
Hall, a former platoon leader who hunted insurgents in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, said the pair came up with the idea for the service back in 2009.
At the time Microsoft was offering free e-learning vouchers to veterans, but those wanted to take advantage were required to first go to the Department of Labor with documents to prove their military service.
“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of e-learning?” Hall asked.
Additionally, many retailers offer in-store military discounts, but those same discounts weren’t being made available online because of fears that people would falsely claiming military status to get the deals.
VA Innovation Initiative director Jonah Czerwinski said online stolen valor is a real concern.
“Making promotions available to veterans or providing discounts to veterans quickly becomes unaffordable if you have no confidence that only veterans are availing themselves of your offer,” he said.
To solve the problem, Hall and Thompson worked with the VA and the United Services Automobile Association, which had experience verifying people’s military records to comply with special rules for lending to servicemembers.
They created a computerized system that can verify in a matter of seconds if somebody has been on active duty at any time since 1950.
After a user sets up an account, ID.me serves as an intermediary to prove a record of service, similar to how PayPal might verify an online purchase.
Active-duty servicemembers and family members can verify their status simply by sending a confirmation email from a .mil email address. Veterans might need to provide information such as their name, date of birth and their dates of military service, which is then checked against Department of Defense records.
Members can then use their credentials at participating websites to get the discounts they deserve, Hall said.
The first websites to offer the service were tellurideskiresort.com and the VA’s official website, but many other major brands now offer online deals and discounts using ID.me, he said.
Those who haven’t used the service before can sign up when they go to checkout from a partner retailer’s website, Hall said.
Navy Lt. Kristen Michele Murdock, of San Diego, said she signed up for ID.me on the advice of a friend and used the service regularly during a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
“I’ve used discounts or deals on everything from travel to clothing, picture frames to massages, Christmas gifts to frozen yogurt,” she said. “…in Afghanistan… going to a real mall just isn’t an option.”
But, Id.me it more than just a way for servicemembers to access online discounts. Czerwinski said the site is helping the VA create economic opportunities for veterans.
For example, people can use the service to apply for one of 2,000 memberships being offered to veterans by Techshop – a chain of workshops that lets people train and execute projects on industrial tools and equipment.
“For Veterans, the benefit (of ID.me) is clear: rapid confirmation of their service to our nation in uniform,” Czerwinski said.
The alternative would involve time and labor-intensive manual checks of people’s service records to see if they were eligible for various programs, he said.
ID.me employs a former chief network security officer from the Pentagon to make sure members’ information isn’t compromised, Hall said.
“Any time we take information at that level we only use it to authenticate the service level claim,” he said. “We make sure we protect that information the same way a bank would.”
The service is controlled by the users, he added.
“Our users are in control of their information and if they want to release information to a brand to get a benefit it’s up to them,” he said.
ID.me gets all of its revenue from the brands that support it and costs nothing for servicemembers to join.
Brands that offer discounts to servicemembers and veterans are listed on a website linked to ID.me, called Troopswap.com, Hall said.
Under Armour director of outdoor marketing Bryan Offutt said in an email that his company had offered discounts at brick and mortar stores to people who showed their military IDs in the past, but it no way to validate people’s military service online before ID.me.
“Under Armour has always been dedicated to those who serve and protect our country and being able to offer our service members the ability to shop our products easily online and receive their military discount was important to our brand,” he said.
Under Armour now offers servicemembers a 10-percent discount on all online purchases, he said.
Hall said ID.me is valued by brands that are focused on the military community.
“They want to build an emotional connection with these groups and offer them exclusive benefits,” he said.