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The social network partnered with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Red Cross to get the devices to eligible veterans, as part of Facebook's broader efforts during the outbreak of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. The partnership also gives Facebook, which has faced privacy concerns, an opportunity to showcase its video chat devices as it competes with products such as the Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Show.
Earlier this month, Facebook gave 2,050 Portal devices to the UK's National Health Service to help people in care homes and hospitals stay connected with their family and friends. Facebook has different versions of the Portal including one that sits atop your TV. The device has a smart camera so users can stay within the frame even if they move around a room, and it works with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
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"We hope that by using these Portal video calling devices, veterans and their caregivers will be able to feel less isolated and more present with their friends and family no matter where they are," Payton Iheme, who leads military and veteran policy at Facebook, said in a statement.
Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said he believes that veterans, families and caregivers will benefit through an "increased support system" and Facebook's Portal device can help.
To be eligible to receive a free Portal, veterans and families have to be part of the VA's Office of Caregiver Support program or its Geriatric Services and Extended Care program. People identified by a VA provider as at risk for suicide are also eligible.
The American Red Cross Military Veterans Caregiver Network is handling the distribution of these devices, and you can request one by filling out this form on its website. Supply is limited and devices will be distributed on a first come, first served basis, according to the site.
Three of Facebook's Portal devices are $50 off through Mother's Day. The 8-inch Portal Mini is $79, and the 10-inch Portal is $129. Portal Plus, which has a 15.6 inch display, costs $229. Portal TV is currently out of stock.