There are 52,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S. on any given night. Ginger Miller was once one of these women. Only 18 years old when she joined the Navy and 22 when she received a medical discharge, it wasn’t a smooth transition back to civilian life for Miller or her Marine Corps veteran husband.
Miller met her husband, William, when the pair were stationed at Annapolis, Maryland. They married shortly after being transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and decided that Miller would stay on to serve while William would get a federal job so he could accompany her wherever she was stationed. This decision was made easier by the fact that William, who had served in Liberia and Operation Desert Storm, was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the suicide of a friend and fellow soldier.
Miller’s troubles began with a severe car accident on the way to the base. After breaking her back, the young boatswain’s mate was bedridden for 21 days before returning to duty. Not long after the car accident, a 55-foot yacht swamped Miller’s 17-foot cabin boat. With water everywhere, Miller hit her head on a battery pack, receiving a concussion and several broken ribs. She developed migraines following the accident, which were so severe she had to be medically discharged.
William got a job in Pennsylvania as a corrections officer at a federal prison under construction. Waiting for the job to start, the couple moved back to New York to stay temporarily with her family. But their plans completely fell apart when the prison lost its funding and William’s job never materialized.
“There we were, two unskilled folks with only high school diplomas. My husband’s PTSD kicked into high gear when the reality of our situation hit him. Up to that point, his PTSD had been untreated. As his mental health deteriorated, my family asked us to leave. So for about one year, we lived in hotels, stayed with friends, and slept in our car on and off.”
Miller worked three jobs to keep their heads above water. She was a teller at the Bank of New York, pulled some nights at a gas station, and did work-study at Hofstra University where she enrolled to get a bachelor’s in accounting with the support of the VA. All this she did while raising her first child.
Eventually Miller’s aunt allowed them to rent her basement. “It was tight quarters, but at least it wasn’t the streets.” From there, they found a rent-to-own home which they purchased and stayed for another five years until Miller finished her degree. Another son joined the family. During this time, William got help at a VA in-patient program for 60 days and was rated “unemployable.”
“After that, we moved to Maryland. We needed a new environment to reduce the stress, a fresh start,” Miller explains.
Miller landed a position as a senior loan officer at JP Morgan Chase, but after two years she felt an urgency to do something more meaningful.
“I saw what my husband was going through. I saw what I was going through as a wife – someone married to a man with PTSD, walking on eggshells every day, never knowing what kind of mood he’s going to be in.”
Channeling her desire to make a difference for veterans without a strong support system, Miller launched John 14:2, a non-profit dedicated to providing housing and supportive services to homeless and at-risk veterans. At the same time, she went back to college for a master’s in nonprofit and association management.
It was major financial sacrifice for Miller as the NGO existed on small grants here and there. But her work did not go unnoticed. She was nominated as Commissioner and Chair of the Outreach and Education Committee of the Maryland Commission for Women and Chair of the Prince George’s County Commission for Veterans.
Despite all her achievements, Miller didn’t feel successful. It was as if she was somehow still “missing the mark.” Restless one night in 2011, she stood in front of the mirror.
“I faced myself for the first time in years. I saw Ginger Miller, wife, mother, and caregiver. And then a light went on. I recognized that I was a woman veteran as well. It had always been an afterthought. My veteran status had never been that important to me because I was always more concerned about my husband’s PTSD, taking care of the kids and basically doing what women do. But that veteran status could actually have prevented us from being homeless if I had reached out, if I had known who to turn to.”
This greater self-awareness led Miller to launch Women Veterans Interactive (WVI) as a division of John 14:2. A one-day outreach event attracted over 200 women vets. “I realized just how many women there were out there like me. We tend to suffer in silence until we find out there are others going through something similar.”
Four years later, WVI has taken on a life of its own, superseding John 14:2 as Miller’s main focus and evolving into a distinct support group for women veterans, meeting them at their point of need. Miller explains, “We listen to what these women have to say. We’re on the ground with them and find the right program to help them, whether it be to transition out of the military, keep the utilities on, or help them live a healthier lifestyle.”
Numerous accolades later (including awards from the White House and the Governor of Maryland), Miller feels the organization is finally turning the corner. Nevertheless, the organization works with a skeleton crew and is mostly supported by volunteers, limited sponsorship, and membership fees. Whatever money comes in goes right back out.
“When you have successfully made it from homelessness and overcome difficult issues in your life and you see other people struggling with that you’ll do what you can to help them. It’s been a rough but great road since I left JP Morgan Chase. Any time you can raise the visibility of this population in a positive way then it’s a trip worth taking. I’m feeling confident. In five years, I see us as the premier organization for women veterans and women in the military! I tell my team ‘You don’t have to the first one to open the door, you just have to be prepared when the door is opened.’ The door is finally opening and WVI is prepared to walk through.”
Her husband of 26 years is immensely proud of what Miller has achieved, though she remains humble. “I am not satisfied with me right now! I do feel the organization has been successful to a certain extent, but we have a lot of work to do. Nevertheless, this year I promised myself I would stop to celebrate every award, every victory. When this organization is fully funded, then I will consider myself a success.”
Please take 5 minutes on May 27, 2015 to nominate Ginger Miller for Best Community Leader for the Steve Harvey Neighborhood Awards. The TOP 3 nominees with the most votes will advance to the second round in Atlanta for a chance to win $30,000 for their nonprofit organization. The nomination period is from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. est. On May 27, 2105. The website to cast your nomination is https://www.
- Select a diverse board of directors capable of raising funds
- Pick a mission that serves a specific purpose but is broad enough to allow for future expansions if necessary
- Form partnerships and collaborations that will help move the mission of your organization forward
- Pack a suitcase full of dedication and endurance