A California National Guardsman has partnered with a fellow soldier to help others ensure they fully understand which benefits are available to them.
Vic Hill, an Army intelligence officer, created MyRuck – an artificial intelligence-powered web and mobile app that provides an easy-to-navigate dashboard explaining service members’ eligibility for federal, state and local benefits.
Hill, who joined the Guard in 2016, said the idea for MyRuck started with trying to establish the benefit differences in the Guard and reserve component and who they apply to. He had been at the basic officer leadership course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for roughly two years when West Point graduates arrived for their leadership course. It was then he noticed the differences.
“So here I am a 27-year-old, 28-year-old guy with a daughter trying to figure out stuff and then here come these 20-, 21-year-olds straight out of West Point,” Hill said, “and they’re active duty so they’re figuring out where they’re buying a home. And I was there like, ‘Man. I know that I’m eligible in some way, shape or form, but there’s all these nuances that are involved in eligibility for reserve and Guard.’”
From that jumping off point, Hill asked around and learned more about additional benefits and when he could qualify.
“[I] just found out that all circumstances are so individualistic,” he said. “So my cofounder [Brad Clark] and I just started to pick away at it because he’s in the National Guard too and he’s prior active duty so we have different benefits.”
Clark, who also was an intelligence officer in the California National Guard, said Hill and he started brainstorming after discussing the issues Hill had applying for benefits.
“The first iteration was literally a spreadsheet … We were both on same page about thinking there’s probably a better way to skin that cat,” said Clark, who currently is in the Inactive Reserve.
They questioned how spouses and dependents factor into the equation and other circumstances like active duty transitioning to the reserves.
The idea for a web and mobile app came from receiving information as paper pamphlets, items posted on job/bulletin boards and “an absolute ton of hyperlinks that just shot you into all these different resources,” according to Hill.
The VA benefits process, according to Clark, “leaves a lot to be desired,” in part, because of the number of “human touch points.”
“In 2023, [there are] probably a lot of very unnecessary touch points so to speak,” Clark said.
Developing the app – with neither guardsmen having a tech background – was a labor of love, according to Clark.
“It was challenging having this idea and being able to bring it to life,” Clark said. “We had a few bumps in the road as far as bringing on tech talent.”
Hill said there was an initial version of the app in 2019 that was put through a Bunker Labs accelerator program, but continued production was delayed due to a deployment.
“Since 2020, it’s been about a year and then we took a pivot,” Hill said. “So this last year has really been where we figured out through talking to both the military community and to service providers, nonprofits, employers, to arrive at where we’re at now, which is kind of honed in on HR integration, but not just civilian employers, but also DOD HR so we can reach all military.”
The AI integration came after looking into intelligent automation, or hyper automation, according to Hill.
“And connecting all the dots and being able to deliver answers faster but also being able to onboard people faster,” Hill said. “So eliminating the long questionnaires.”
When an employer adopts the platform, their current HR technology, such as ADP or WorkDay, is integrated on the back end.
“What we then come in and do with our technology is when you’re onboarding with an employer, there’s an additional onboarding card where it says upload your military documents,” Hill said. “It pings our software and we can read your military documents and we can extract that data and see what benefits you’re eligible for at a federal, state and local level. And then that is provided in a very nicely designed dashboard.”
The response so far, Clark said, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“We have kind of a novel idea of an old problem and just the reaction has been overwhelming,” Clark said.
The app is slated to release in July, with the goal of having 100 customers between July and December.