For this week’s State of Women Veterans blog, I interviewed Ginger Miller, founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, a nonprofit dedicated to serving women Veterans that partnered with VA on this campaign.
Miller served in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1992, received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and earned a master’s degrees in nonprofit and association management from the University of Maryland University College. She is a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change.
Q. What drove you to found Women Veterans Interactive?
A. I made a promise to myself after experiencing homelessness with my husband, a disabled Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and our young son, that once I got on my feet I would dedicate my life to supporting Veterans. After starting my first nonprofit organization, John 14:2, Inc., dedicated to combating Veteran homelessness, I found myself leaving my own status and concerns on the back burner.
However, one night in 2011 I looked in the mirror and actually saw me: wife, mother, commissioner, disabled Veteran, former homeless Veteran and, last but not least, a proud WOMAN VETERAN. Soon after, I started Women Veterans Interactive to support other women Veterans who, like me, may have been uninformed, unequipped, and dealing with issues after leaving the military.
Q. Can you describe some of the barriers that women Veterans face when transitioning back to civilian life?
A. When a woman gets out of the military, life as she knows it can come to a screeching halt, while fear and uncertainty enter if she is not well prepared for the transition. The barriers to her continued success include depression, anxiety, unemployment and underemployment – which can lead to homelessness.
There can be so many moving parts when transitioning out of the military, especially if you have a family depending on you: relocating, finding a job, childcare, housing, schools for the kids, spiritual needs … the list can go on and on. When you couple that with not knowing where to start, it can become extremely stressful. The lack of transition support services designed for women Veterans is a huge barrier; they are looking for programs and organization that they can identify with upon exiting the military, which fully understand their needs and respect the sacrifice that they have made for our country.
Q. What are some of the assets women Veterans bring to their communities?
A. Women Veterans bring versatility to their communities as outstanding leaders at every level; we are team players, hard workers, critical thinkers, visionaries and fast learners who have the capabilities to quickly and easily adapt to any environment.
Q. Many women Veterans mention feeling “invisible” – what can people do to address that problem?
A. I believe that the woman Veteran community is suffering from a bad case of the “book end effect:” on one end you have women Veterans who have done and continue to do extraordinary things, and on the other end you have women Veterans who have suffered some sort of trauma to include homelessness and military sexual trauma. These women on the “book end” categories receive praise and media attention, and to the American public, if you don’t fall into one of these extreme categories it’s like you don’t exist.
No one reads the books in the middle because they are too fascinated with the stories of the bookends, which is why so many women Veterans feel invisible. People can address this problem by joining us in the conversation to find out what our needs are, and then partnering with us to develop and deliver the solutions.
Q. What resources does Women Veterans Interactive offer women Veterans?
A. Women Veterans Interactive provides services to women Veterans using a holistic approach. Our programs cover health and wellness, peer support, workforce development and homelessness prevention:
- Pink and White Women Veterans Breakfast, a peer-to-peer support program that has reached five states and over 125 women Veterans in only three months. We are expanding this program with a goal to support 1,000+ women Veterans and women in the military in 2017.
- Operation Safety Net, a unique program that provides emergency funding and assistance for women Veterans who are homeless and at risk of being homeless. We can prevent evictions, utility shut offs, buy groceries, purchase warm nights in local hotels, and pay for 1st month’s rent and security deposits.
- Women Veterans Transition Space, our workforce development and employment assistance program, which provides women Veterans and military women with tools and resources to transition from active service to success through career development and employment.
- Health and Wellness Initiative, which supports women Veterans using an intentional focus on wellness and empowerment for the mind, body and spirit. Techniques and programs include yoga, nutritional counseling, and fitness.
- WVI Legacy Scholarship program, which recognizes the importance of education and helping the children of women Veterans to achieve their educational goals.
Q. Tell me about the upcoming Extravaganza!
A. The Extravaganza is the only event of its kind in the country that provides education, empowerment, and inspiration for women Veterans while recognizing our service and sacrifice to the country. Attendees form bonds that last a lifetime, get reconnected with Battle Buddies from the military, dance the night away at the Women Veterans and Women in the Military Gala, and for the grand finale attendees take part in the Women Veterans and Women in the Military Empowerment and Unification Cruise. In addition to having fun, attendees have the opportunity to sign up for VA’s e-Benefits, learn about support services, resources and programs available. This year, the first day is dedicated to the State of Women Veterans; panelists will examine where women Veterans are today, where we are going, and what it will take to get there.
This is the final blog in an 11-week series on the State of Women Veterans. Visit the campaign page to read other entries.