CARLSBAD — In 2017, streaming network Veteran Television (VET Tv) began producing comedy shows that brought together a community of veterans. Faced with growing isolation due to stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19, VET Tv calls for an even greater push for social connection.
Based in Carlsbad — a city that is home to nearly 6,300 veterans — VET Tv produces multiple military comedy shows for an audience of more than 80,000 monthly subscribers. Responding to the pandemic, VET Tv recently launched campaigns to educate and encourage veterans to strengthen relationships virtually.
“We’re reminding people that we have to stay connected to each other and to our greater military community during this time, or our mental health will suffer even further,” said Donny O’Malley, VET Tv founder and Marine Corps veteran. “This is so important, and this is actually the foundation of everything we do, which is just to try to facilitate connection. Doing that now is all digital.”
Each VET Tv episode ends with a reminder for the viewer to text someone they served with. Referring to hundreds of reviews and testimonials, O’Malley says this simple outreach reestablishes powerful connections based on a shared military experience.
Virtual connection is becoming a greater necessity for isolated veterans. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Veteran Crisis Hotline experienced a 12% increase in calls, 20% of which were directly related to COVID-19.
Organizations are developing new resources to aid veterans, including the VA’s COVID Coach app, which helps veterans cope with stress and anxiety. But as far as building a community across all military jobs, from administration to aircraft mechanics, VET Tv is the first to do so.
“[Donny’s] seen a lot of things in his military experience, so I thought there’s no reason that he wouldn’t be a great resource to talk about what’s going on around coronavirus,” said Scott Yoffe, VET Tv’s PR specialist. “Social isolation is a big cause of suicides in the military. Everything [Donny] does is about building a community to bring veterans together.
“… With COVID we’re being told to socially isolate, so it’s a good opportunity for Donny to get out and talk about some of the things that veterans can do to help stay engaged so they don’t fall into that dark place.”
To foster social connections, O’Malley and his team at VET Tv are developing new content. Shows may range from animation to audience submissions — including a show for bringing veteran musicians together virtually.
“At our core, that is the power we have as a television network and as a media source — we can re-create experiences for these people that no one else is doing,” O’Malley said. “I believe that is the power of comedy and the power of Veteran Television for this community.”
Catherine Allen is an intern reporter at The Coast News, primarily covering Carlsbad news. She is currently a senior at Carlsbad High School, where she serves as co-editor-in-chief of Lancer Link, the online student newspaper. For tips or story ideas, follow her on Twitter @cath_allen or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.