Written by Ginger Miller
In the early 90’s after a medical discharge from the Navy, I became homeless, along with my husband who is a disabled veteran and our young son. The sad part is, I didn’t know I was homeless; I thought I was simply surviving. To make ends meet, I worked three jobs while going to school full time. This was a time in my life that I isolated myself from my peers. I was ashamed to ask for help because, honestly, I did not know help was available, and the sense of pride I felt while in the military was diminished.
After suffering in silence for more than a decade due to my husband’s untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I finally spoke up by creating John 14:2, Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting homeless and at risk veterans. My thoughts were that, if it happened to me, there have to be thousands more just like me who are suffering in silence, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Two years after the inception of John 14:2, I felt like there was something missing. I got up at three o’clock one morning and looked in the mirror. The person I saw was Ginger Miller, Woman Veteran; Ginger Miller, Former Homeless Veteran; Ginger Miller, Disabled Veteran. Then a light went on. It became crystal clear to me that I needed to do something specifically for women veterans, and I did just that.
As a woman veteran, I recognize the call to sisterhood, service, and sacrifice and this is why I started Women Veterans Interactive (WVI), which meets Women Veterans at their points of need. WVI is an organization for women veterans by women veterans, willing to roll our sleeves up to assist our sister veterans, ensuring that we never leave one behind. If a women veteran is homeless, in need of a mentor or support services, or looking for a great way to get involved in community outreach, we can meet those needs. We support women veterans through Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach, and Unification (AEIOU), with Outreach being my biggest priority for the organization.
Women Veterans Interactive (WVI) has programs and events designed specifically for woman veterans, including our Empowerment and Unification Lunch Cruises that give women the opportunity to have peer-to-peer interaction, food, and fun while enjoying nautical views. Most importantly, these cruises are a time for them to find out about the services and benefits available to them in an effort to break down the barriers that lead to homelessness. Our first year, we had over 600 woman veterans participate and held the event in both Maryland and New York. Other programs we hold include our Women Veterans Financial Literacy Program and our Women Veterans Breakfast Series. Topics for the breakfast series are include “The Great Transition and Benefits,” “Homelessness,” “Education and Employment,” and “Mentorship.” In addition WVI provides Turkey Baskets, Christmas Toys, winter coats, referrals for housing and employment, and rental assistance.
To see the look and feel the appreciation and relief flowing from a woman veteran’s heart when she comes to pick up food to feed her children for Thanksgiving, or to hear a woman veteran say, “Thank you Ms. Ginger, now me and my babies can have Thanksgiving Dinner,” is simply priceless.
Recently, there was a woman veteran who came to pick up food for Thanksgiving who looked familiar to me. I realized that this was one of the women who lived in a transitional facility that WVI went to visit. This particular woman had moved into permanent housing during the Thanksgiving Holiday, and we provided her with Thanksgiving Dinner for her and her son, whom she just regained custody of.
As a compassionate servant and leader, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to serve at various state and county levels on the Maryland Commission for Women, the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council, the Maryland Veterans Resilience Initiative, and as Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission.
When people ask what drives me, I just simply say I remember feeling lonely, depressed, scared, and ashamed, and I remember being homeless and not having enough food to eat. I remember the transition, the struggle…I remember being these women.
Ginger Miller is the Founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive. This post originally appeared on the White House Champions of Change blog. Ginger is a 2011 graduate of V-WISE Baltimore.