After serving two tours in Iraq and going on a decade in the military, Justin Miller returned to civilian life with three priorities: an education, a career and giving back to others who served.
He’s done all three, including working as a veteran outreach coordinator to help veterans adjust to civilian life. Miller grew up in Chicago’s Western Suburbs, near DeVry University’s Addison campus. He joined the United States Army in 2003 and served through 2011, then returned to the Chicago area and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from DeVry. He’s now working toward his MBA with a focus on marketing at DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management and he’s doing so with purpose.
“I really like the job I have now and am looking to move up and over into more of a leadership/management role,” Miller says. “Hopefully I’ll get a promotion.”
Miller is talking about his work with the Road Home Program, a non-profit closely affiliated with Rush University Medical Center’s department of psychiatry.
The Road Home Program is 100-percent philanthropically funded with a focus on helping veterans and their families with no-cost outpatient mental health. Since launching in 2014, Road Home has seen significant growth, from seven to more than 70 employees who all work to break down the stigma of veterans getting help with issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety. The organization was also the beneficiary of a $45-million dollar grant from the Wounded Warrior Project in 2017.
Back on Track
Miller brings his own experiences into his career, passionately working to help fellow vets get on track once they exit the military. “I’ve been through my own struggles and years of therapy, so I can meet that veteran at that level,” Miller says. “For me, it was more transitional. [You are] so immersed in the military culture and environment, then you go home to your own family. It’s not the same. The increase in decision-making coupled with being self-sustaining and autonomous isn’t easy. In the military, we’re told where to go, where to sleep, etc.
“I don’t think there’s too much of a divide but as a veteran you can tell the people who are patronizing you and people who are really genuine about thanking for your service. Most veterans don’t even say anything, but some folks don’t quite understand what it means to serve.”
Of course, every veteran is dealing with a unique set of issues, but “therapy worked for me and can for anyone if you really put effort into it,” Miller says. “After a couple months even, I realized it was helping me get better.” Unfortunately, not everyone gets the help they need when they need it. More than 20 active duty and retired veterans commit suicide on a daily basis, and it has to stop.
“These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority,” Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin said in 2017. “This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.” This is the biggest battle organizations like Road Home are fighting, Miller says: “It’s a staggering number that includes lots of Vietnam vets, but also from the post-911 generation.”
Don’t Fight It: Get Help!
Miller has been a firsthand witness to the devastation a veteran’s suicide brings to families, but he’s also seen positive movement toward acceptance of their needs. “More and more veterans are realizing that getting help is not a weakness but a strength,” he says. “We offer an intensive outpatient program, and that’s both a local and a nationwide effort.”
It’s basically like boot camp for your emotions. Road Home will fly veterans from anywhere, work with them for a set amount of time, and the resulting graduations demonstrate why the program works, Miller says. “I’ve been to more than a dozen graduations and every one is very emotional, very impactful for the veterans and their families. It’s a meaningful experience.”
Veterans based in closer proximity to Chicago are able to use Road Home’s services in more of an ongoing manner.
Miller has been active in issues affecting veterans since he got out of the military. He worked hard to develop and grow the DeVry Military Resource Club (DMRC), building an active following of veterans attending monthly meetings. He also served as president of the DMRC during his last 2.5 years in undergraduate studies, helping turn a small veterans chapter group into a nationally recognized Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter.
During that time was when he started therapy himself at least partially to set a good example for other veterans attending DeVry. “I felt I needed to be able to say, ‘I did it. You guys can do it, too.’”
Career and Life: Moving Forward
Miller made the first of his two deployments to Iraq in 2007, to Baghdad during the surge, and to Tikrit in 2009. Upon returning home, he went directly into school at DeVry. “I wanted to go for IT because I was doing it in the Army, but realized I hated it,” he says. “I loved the [BUSN 115] Introduction to Business and Technology class, so I switched my major to marketing and 4.0-ed my degree. I was really passionate about it.”
He’s also been passionate about social media since using it to help organize and grow the student veterans group at DeVry and in his on-campus work as director of student activities. He took a shot working for a startup that didn’t pan out, which ended up being a blessing in disguise as that’s when he found his job doing outreach for Road Home, a position he’s held for about a year and a half now.
Like many at the non-profit, he wears many hats “so more funds go to the veterans themselves. I run our social media accounts, work on campaigns with partners like the Wounded Warrior Project, and do event management and community outreach,” Miller says. “I’m always champing at the bit. There are a lot of things I’d like to do in life. I’d like to dedicate more time into Road Home, move into leadership or a higher-level position so I can lead change, especially with the degree I’m getting now [at Keller]. I’m confident I can do more of those tasks well because of the education I’ve received. I’d like to maybe start my own non-profit one day.”
Not one to sit idly by, he also serves on the executive committee of Roll Call Chicagoland, a conglomerate of veteran-focused readiness groups. Major corporations often work with such groups and many of them in the Chicago area have come together to form Roll Call Chicagoland. It works with corporations and builds partnerships with those who have a passion to help veterans obtain more gainful employment. This is another passion of Miller’s. He hopes to see the effort toward connecting corporate sponsors with job-seeking veterans duplicated across the country.
Do Your Part: Hire a Veteran
Miller has found that companies who hire veterans and challenge them to do their best work often realize veterans are strategic assets in many different ways. “They can make or break and drive change in any organization,” Miller says. “Their hard skills are already well developed from the military although those don’t always transition well to a résumé.
“Going from combat to career, or combat to college to career, is a major transition for veterans,” Miller says. “If you’re not a veteran but are in a position to give a veteran a chance, please do so and challenge that veteran to their utmost potential. Veterans’ true abilities often go untapped. We are mission-oriented, focused, gung-ho about our jobs, and very loyal.”
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.