Ginger Miller '13, the president and chief executive officer of the Women Veterans Interactive Foundation, spends her days telling the stories of the women her nonprofit serves. They are women whose transition from the military comes with unexpected trauma, from mental health challenges and homelessness to food insecurity and unemployment.
The Women Veterans Interactive Foundation works to connect those women with financial assistance, career training, health care, education, and other resources needed for post-military success. The nonprofit also serves as a forum where former servicemembers who are female can trade experiences and solutions.
When Miller is out advocating for her organization and the women it serves, she sometimes shares bits of her own background—but never everything.
“I’ve never really told my real story,” Miller said, in reflecting on the importance of Women’s History Month. “I’ve told my story as a woman veteran and as a homeless woman veteran. I’ve told my story as the founder of Women Veterans Interactive.
“But I’ve never told my story as a Black woman operating in the veterans’ space.”
Miller received a Master of Science in Management with a specialization in nonprofit and association management from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) in 2013. Yet she stands out as an anomaly in the nonprofit world: a Black female leader involved in issues specifically affecting women veterans.
In February, during a Black History Month speech underscoring the value of education for Black families, UMGC President Gregory Fowler singled out Miller. “As the fight against injustice and inequality continues, Ginger Miller—along with countless others whose lives have been transformed by education—give us reason for hope.”
Miller’s life experiences align with some of the most urgent social challenges facing the country. She knows what childhood hunger feels like. She has been a caregiver to both her aging mother and to her husband, a former servicemember with post-traumatic stress disorder. She has survived homelessness. She is the daughter of immigrants and knows the barriers faced by first-generation Americans. She has been among the working poor, juggling three part-time jobs yet barely scraping by.
But there is more to Miller’s story.
“Like the Wizard of Oz, I don’t give people a chance to look behind the curtain,” Miller said. “As a woman leader, you feel restricted from telling your whole truth. You don’t put out all the bad experiences because people don’t want to hear that. They want to hear a success story,” Miller explained.
Miller said to be a Black woman leading a nonprofit that touches the military can be lonely.
“You see a lot of Black women veterans but you don’t see a lot of Black women leading nonprofits, especially nonprofit organizations to support women veterans,” Miller said. “When I got to events sometimes, I’m the only Black women veteran there.
“I have no models to look up to in the space. Who do I learn from? Who do I network with?”
In many ways, Miller is becoming that very model she seeks.
President Biden named Miller to serve on the USO Board of Governors, and she is an honorary commander for the 316th Operations Group at Joint Base Andrews. In 2022, UMGC gave her its Edward A. Parnell Outstanding Alumnus Service Award. And she was selected to take part in the Obama Presidency Oral History Project.
The project is a partnership between the Obama Foundation and Columbia University’s Center for Oral History. Its goal is to collect oral histories that deepen understanding of equity and justice issues.
Miller had envisioned a long career in the Navy before she was medically discharged in the early-1990s. She was pregnant and her husband, a former U.S. Marine, was struggling with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their transition to civilian life included homelessness.
Once back on her feet, Miller started meeting other female veterans struggling post-military, feeling alone and isolated and not knowing where to find resources that addressed the challenges specific to women veterans.
In response, Miller launched Women Veterans Interactive in 2011.
“There are not a lot of women veterans organizations that understand women veterans and how to deliver support to them,” Miller explained. “When I look at the history of our organization and the way forward, I see that I’m the odd man out. Everything I had to do, I had to learn on my own. I had to figure out where I fit in as a leader. I had to forge ahead, dig deep, and cut my own path.”
Despite hurdles, Miller acknowledges that her organization has “made great impact.”
“People know what the Women Veterans Interactive Foundation is. We have strategically navigated the industry. We have impressive corporate sponsors for our annual conference and programs, including USAA, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Comcast, JPMorgan Chase, Northwest Federal Credit Union,” Miller said. “I’m proud we’re getting these great partners who are listening to nonprofits focused on women veterans and saying we are important and we belong here.”
Miller recognized an education was the path to achievement but she had to find a way to afford it. Her military service enabled her to take advantage of GI educational benefits.
Miller shared some of her story during the virtual keynote address at the UMGC Class of 2022 graduation ceremony. The rest of the story—as Miller puts it, “the story of me as a Black woman driving this train”—remains ahead.
“Society tells us to be strong. But as a Black woman veteran, I have had a lot of obstacles I had to overcome,” Miller said. “One day I’m going to write a book. It will tell my full story.”