Wounded Soldier Advocate Finds His Calling
(November 11, 2008)
MONTEREY, Calif. , Nov. 10, 2008 – Doug
Miller never really knew what he wanted to do when he grew
up – that was, until after he retired this year. |
The 65-year-old combat veteran and former technology
businessman finally found his calling, he said, taking care
of Army wounded warriors.
“I think we owe so much to these people who have served our
country and who are now going through a whole lot more than
they expected to go through. I want to do something for
them,” Miller said.
warrior advocate Doug Miller, center stands with
a group of soldiers after a five-mile run just
outside of the Defense Language Institute
Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif.
Miller's veteran status helps his rapport with
the soldiers and veterans he serves.
Miller took the federal civilian job this
year after a friend called and asked if he'd be interested.
With his daughter serving with the U.S. State Department in
Iraq and his son serving as an Army helicopter pilot, Miller
jumped at the opportunity. |
“I just felt compelled to go back and serve some more. This
is the best thing I could do at my age,” Miller said. “This
is a chance for me to come back and do something that's
Miller is a retired Army helicopter pilot and two-tour
combat veteran. That usually opens doors for him as he calls
those under his watch and introduces himself. He has 84
cases right now, although he is supposed to have only 30.
Eventually, those extra cases will be turned over to two
other case managers.
Of Miller's cases, about 70 percent of the troops are
retired or awaiting the outcomes of physical evaluation
boards. Two continue to serve on active duty in duty
assignments, while others still are working through their
recovery in warrior transition units on military
installations and at treatment facilities. Miller's
territory includes northern California and parts of Nevada.
Poking Around the Edges
On a typical day, Miller spends most of his time on the
phone, on e-mail or on the road. He calls every soldier once
a month, Miller said.
“It's not just to have a brief conversation, but it's to, as
best we can, assess the total family environment,” Miller
said. “We want to know how the soldier is doing but we want
also want to know how the family is doing as well. Because a
lot of times what's happened to the soldier has a
significant impact on the family dynamics.”
For the most part, he is a generalist, with no particular
specialty, Miller said. His power comes from his reach back
to Washington, D.C., that gives him access to specialists
and senior leaders to whom many times the soldiers and
families do not have access.
“We identify an issue and we call headquarters. They do all
the research, find the right resources and come to us with
some recommendations and a solution,” Miller said.
Sometimes servicemembers or families are upset over
bureaucratic snafus or, once they are away from a military
treatment facility, have feelings of being ignored, Miller
“Sometimes you have to poke around the edges and not push
too hard,” Miller said of his conversations. “But as you
establish a trust over several conversations, over several
weeks or months, they begin to open up.”
Miller said one soldier was extremely frustrated over not
being able to receive his Traumatic Servicemembers' Group
Life Insurance -- a one-time payment aimed at helping
severely injured soldiers through immediate financial needs
brought on by their injuries. The amount varies depending on
the injury, but it often makes it financially possible for
families to be with the servicemembers during recovery.
For six months, the soldier's paperwork kept getting
rejected over a discrepancy. The soldier was so frustrated
by the time Miller first called him, he didn't even want to
talk, Miller said.
“I said ‘Just give me a chance. I know who to call,'” Miller
said. “He gave me chance. I called him back and said ‘Your
payment's been approved.' We're the best of friends now. We
talk all the time.
“It's not that I did anything. It's that I was there and
showed some concern.”
Care Plus Marketing Equal Advocacy
Miller's first objective is to let the soldiers and families
know the Army still cares about them. After that, his goal
is to help them along their transition, whether it is back
to military duty or into civilian life.
“Whether they stay in the service or they get out and go to
school or get a job, we want to help them, mentor them,
facilitate them along the way,” Miller said.
He helps the soldiers develop a five-year plan that takes
them through their transition and sets goals as steps along
Miller's job complements the efforts of the warrior
transition units. There, troops have squad leaders and a
command structure to help them through problems.
Part of Miller's time is spent meeting with and speaking to
private and civic groups that want to help wounded warriors.
He is active in his local Veterans of Foreign Wars in
Pleasanton, Calif., and works with the Sentinels of Freedom,
a nonprofit group that provides scholarships to help
veterans become self- sufficient.
About 80 percent of Miller's time is spent talking to
soldiers and families, and the rest marketing the program
and advocating on soldiers' behalf.
The experiences of his past two jobs, as an Army officer and
in corporate marketing, have provided him with a perfect
combination of skills for his efforts now, Miller said.
“As a government employee I can't solicit help for them, but
I can make people in the community aware they are there,”
To be successful as an advocate, you have to have a passion
for taking care of soldiers, Miller said. While he was
attending training in Washington with other new advocates,
he was impressed by the overall sense of dedication, Miller
“Everybody was very emotional,” Miller said. “It was one of
the most emotional experiences to hear everyone's story.”
When Miller first considered the job, taken on in what was
supposed to be his golden years, he told his wife he would
stick with it for a year or two, he said.
But somewhere down the line, something changed.
“I think I'm going to have difficulty telling my wife, but I
don't see any reason to quit,” Miller said. “I don't know
how long I'll do the job, but I can't see why I'd ever want
Miller said he used to joke during his time in the military
and while he was working in the corporate world that he
never knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.
He's not joking anymore.
“Now, basically, I know. Everything I was doing in my life
was preparing me for this job.” Miller said.
photo by Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Reprinted from American Forces Press Service / DoD
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