STATEN ISLAND - After serving tours in Afghanistan and Antarctica, Jason Loughran says his transition out of military life was rough.
Jason Loughran, who now works at the Department of Veterans Services, says, "You start feeling like you're not good enough — like once you left the military, I didn't do enough to be able to make it in this fast paced world I'm living in."
Loughran says he transitioned thanks to the support of friends and family. Others are not so lucky.
A 2012 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that more than 20 veterans kill themselves each day.
So when these College of Staten Island students, for whom Loughran is a volunteer mentor, decided to enter a contest requiring the use of IMB technology to improve government services, they focused on that high suicide rate.
Anthony Astarita tells NY1, "We wanted to create an artificial intelligence to help identify who is at risk and what can we do to solve them."
They developed an algorithm that analyzes postings by veterans on social media sites to detect language and patters that indicate if the veteran is a suicide risk.
They created a program called Guardian that can send a message to a close friend or relative of a veteran whom the algorithm determines should receive a wellness check.
Student Mark Vitebsky says, "It cannot physically go to a person and you know, pull him from a bridge or something like that. But its goal is to pass information to someone who can."
The group beat out 75 other teams in a CUNY-IBM Watson Social Impact Challenge to win $5,000 and the chance to bring their idea to life.
The group met with the city Department of Veteran's Services to share their idea. They'd like to partner with veteran groups to provide access to its early intervention technology.
Says Egor Semeniak, of the winning design team, "The point where we can actually tell for sure that they are in danger, there's not a lot of tools that can actually help. And usually once you're at that point it's already too late to help that person. So our main idea is to basically help the people who are at risk and give them access to the services that there are plenty of."
In the coming weeks, the group plans to continue to meet with not-for-profit veterans groups in the hopes that their idea eventually becomes reality.