How Ginger Miller is writing the book on women veterans

Kaylah Jackson
July 02, 2018 - 5:21 pm

Photo courtesy of Ginger Miller

Before Ginger Miller became a pioneer for women veterans, she wore the title of "caregiver," worked multiple jobs and earned her degree, all while battling homelessness.

From training midshipmen at the Naval Academy to securing water ways for Marines using heavy artillery, she had her fair share of experiences thanks to serving in the U.S. Navy as a boatswain's mate.

But along with those experiences came injuries and hardships, one injury so severe it led to her being medically discharged. 

Miller and the rest of her crew were working in the Intracostal Waterway and noticed a seamen in a large yacht coming towards them at lightning speed. When they tried to signal to him to slow down, he did the exact opposite.

“He thought we were signaling him to speed up…the weight from that covered our boat like 10 times. Everything was flying around the boat, we were flying around the boat," said Miller. I got hit with a battery. I got hit with an igloo."

From broken ribs and a broken back from prior injuries, she started suffering from intense migraines, which eventually led to her separation from the Navy as 100 percent disabled. 

She planned to do her 20 years but her injuries forced her to end her career plan sooner than expected. With her husband out of the Marine Corps battling with his own PTSD, and Miller pregnant with their first child, the pair found themselves back in her hometown in Upstate New York. Not coming from a military town or military family, the young couple had no support.

"I was told I had to take my crazy husband and find some place to go. Where do you go with a woman who was a boatswain's mate in the Navy? I didn’t have a lot of college under my belt. Our son at that time, I  believe was about 2 years old and that’s how we ended up homeless,” said Miller. "Like a lot of veterans today, we slept in our car, hotels, and with friends. I refused to go to a shelter because I was adamant about keeping my family together."

 

Through the G.I. Bill, Miller put herself through school. She earned a B.A. in Accounting and simultaneously worked three jobs, which she credits as how she pulled herself of homelessness.

“I promised myself that once I got back on my feet, I would dedicate my life to serving veterans so that other veterans wouldn't have to suffer the way that I did,” said Miller.

Fulfilling that promise lead her to create John 14:2 Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families reintegrating back into the community and retaining permanent housing. But even after creating the organization, she still felt there was more work left to do.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and the person that I saw was Ginger Miller: wife, mother, caregiver, commissioner...disabled veteran…the last thing that popped in my head was ‘women veteran.’

Her idea to reach this marginalized group started with a round table discussion at the White House with other women veterans. That conversation grew into creating a 200-women strong empowerment and unification cruise. What she found was not only did other women not identify as “women veterans,” but that women receiving their military retirement weren’t taking advantage of VA services.

“There’s no reason that anyone who served their country 25 years or one year should be homeless,” said Miller

That’s when the lightbulb went off and Women Veterans Interactive was born.

Spanning 12 states and with over 750 members, the organization tackles mental and physical health, relationships, and homelessness all through “Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach and Unification.”

Photo courtesy of Ginger Miller

Miller credits her proletarian mentality for the organization's success: "Every program was grown organically, because when you’re at the grassroots level, you really have the opportunity to see what the real needs of women veterans are."

And meeting women veterans allowed Miller to see those needs. From health and wellness programs, to mentoring, and a leadership and diversity conference, Women Veterans Interactive has created a program or opportunity from simply listening to what women veteran want and treating them with dignity and respect. The key she says, is not treating them on an extreme spectrum, which is how women veterans are viewed in the media. 

“We’re either homeless or we’re doing great things because we’re breaking down barriers in the military doing what the men do,” says Miller. “As of right now, people think we’re synonymous with military spouses…nobody has taken time out to read the book (on women veterans)."

Women Veterans Interactive however, is reading the book. They are pretty much writing it. Ginger Miller and her team are working on the ground to reach out to women veterans, finding out what they need and surpassing those needs.

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