Serving those who have served their country
By Sue Baldani
After serving four years in the U.S. Navy and being medically discharged after an accident in 1992, Ginger Miller had a difficult time transitioning back into civilian life. Joining the military right out of high school left her unskilled for many employment opportunities.
“I did not transition well,” she says. “My husband, a Marine, who was discharged before me, was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and we ended up being homeless.
“I knew no other woman veterans. I was feeling down and out and ashamed of being homeless after serving my country. Even if I would’ve known where to look for help, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to ask for it.”
Miller ended up working three jobs, raising two young sons, and going to school whenever she found the time. Eventually earning a B.A. in accounting and an M.A. in nonprofit and association management, her life today is dramatically different. However, she never forgot those struggles and has committed herself to making the transition smoother for other female veterans.
“I initially founded John 14.2 Inc. in 2009, a nonprofit organization that focused on veterans like my husband who suffered from PTSD, not realizing that I also had my own issues as a woman veteran.”
In 2011, when she was the Commissioner and Chair of the Outreach and Education Committee of the Maryland Commission for Women, she decided she wanted to do something to specifically help women veterans and founded Women Veterans Interactive (WVI) under the umbrella of John 14.2. It blew up so large that it eventually became its own nonprofit in 2018.
“Back in March of 2012, I organized a Women Veterans Empowerment and Unification Cruise and over 200 women veterans registered within 30 days. That showed me that I wasn’t the only woman veteran who had struggled or was struggling.”
She knew the Veterans Administration (VA) was having a hard time reaching female veterans, so she reached out to bring them on board so they could talk to these women about the services they had. That started a lasting partnership between WVI and the VA that continues to this day.
One of WVI’s programs, Operation Safety Net, is the heart of what they do, says Miller, providing everything from security deposits and rent to healthy food. It also works to stop evictions and utility disconnects.
Its Workforce Development programs help female veterans find employment. “For every three out of five women veterans that have issues with homelessness, their real issues are unemployment and underemployment.”
The struggles that female veterans have can be much more complex than their male counterparts. “A lot of corporations and foundations have funding and programs that support veterans and military spouses, but women veterans often fall through the cracks. That’s why we’re here.”
As of today, WVI has supported over 5000 women veterans and has members in approximately 25 different states. When Miller was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the B3 Group was in the audience. “Small businesses are some of our biggest supporters, and the B3 Group has made a commitment and has stuck to their commitment. To have an ally like the B3 Group is amazing.”
Another supporter of WVI is actor and producer Tyler Perry, who heard about the organization through the great work it does. Along with a $20,000 donation, he also gave a private tour of his new Tyler Perry Studios to approximately 25 female veterans, which also included Tyler Perry Studios swag bags. The following year, he sent 150 T-shirts for its annual Women Veterans Leadership and Diversity Conference.
To join in the support for this amazing organization, people can make a donation on its website at http://womenveteransinteractive.org/, become a member, or email Miller directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. They can also follow WVI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“There’s no wrong door at WVI,” says Miller. “I don’t care if you’re homeless, if you’re hungry, or if you’re doing great. We’re here for everybody. For those who don’t need help, they want to give help back to their own communities by starting chapters. This is what makes us so special.”
As the founder and CEO of WVI, she was recently selected to tell her story about being a woman veteran who experienced homelessness for the Obama Presidency Oral History Project, which she calls a once in a lifetime opportunity. Among many other awards, Miller was also presented with the White House Champion of Change Award for Woman Veterans in 2013.
And she isn’t done yet! The Women Veterans Interactive Foundation will launch in July and will build upon the work Miller and her members have already accomplished with WVI. It’s also going to have its own research department and provide annual data on women veterans. To find out more about this new initiative, go to http://womenveteransinteractive.org.
Written for The Business Voice Magazine in Virginia.