A Veterans Advocate For The 21st Century

Matt Miller takes a holistic approach to advocating for the country’s wounded warriors.

Matthew Miller is the chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
National Journal
June 12, 2015, 1:02 a.m.

Every­one take a deep breath,” Mat­thew Miller tells the 40 or so vet­er­ans’ ad­voc­ates and Cap­it­ol Hill aides gathered in a House of­fice build­ing on a re­cent Tues­day. They’ve just watched a screen­ing of Crisis Hot­line: Vet­er­ans Press 1, an Oscar-win­ning doc­u­ment­ary about a call cen­ter for vets con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide, and the film, like the lives of the ser­vice mem­bers whose stor­ies it tells, con­tains more than a few har­row­ing mo­ments. The as­sembled group will start talk­ing policy soon, but not just yet.

Miller is the new chief of policy for Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica, and be­ing a Wash­ing­ton ad­voc­ate for vet­er­ans isn’t the job it used to be. For most of the na­tion’s his­tory, help­ing vets was mainly about en­sur­ing that they re­ceived care for and sup­port in man­aging their phys­ic­al wounds. But with so many re­turn­ing vet­er­ans now be­ing dia­gnosed with post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­order, groups such as IAVA are in­creas­ingly seek­ing to en­sure that ser­vice mem­bers’ in­vis­ible wounds are ad­dressed as well.+ Mat­thew Miller is the chief policy of­ficer for the Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica. (Chet Suss­lin)

That means that, in ad­di­tion to over­see­ing the IAVA’s eight-per­son D.C. staff, Miller spends much of his time ad­voc­at­ing for im­prove­ment in men­tal-health ser­vices for vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing ar­ran­ging aware­ness-rais­ing events like this one. At the top of his pri­or­ity list is help­ing to im­ple­ment and build on the Clay Hunt Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion for Amer­ic­an Vet­er­ans Act, a law IAVA helped de­vel­op and Con­gress passed earli­er this year. An­oth­er fo­cus is in­flu­en­cing policy around wo­men’s health: Fe­male ser­vice mem­bers are the fast­est-grow­ing seg­ment of the vet­er­an pop­u­la­tion, and many face obstacles in ac­cess­ing care.

These pri­or­it­ies aren’t Miller’s pet causes: They’re the is­sues polling has de­term­ined IAVA mem­bers care most about. A Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ive with a deep love of coun­try mu­sic and Ron­ald Re­agan (when his first­born turned out to be a girl, he named her Re­agan any­way), Miller says what he really cares about is serving vet­er­ans in any way they want him to. “Ser­vice to me is why I was put on this Earth,” he says. “As long as my health keeps up, I’ll al­ways try to be in­volved.”

Miller was born in High­point, North Car­o­lina, and gradu­ated from Mars Hill Uni­versity in 1986 with a bach­el­or’s de­gree in his­tory and polit­ic­al sci­ence. After work­ing for a few years as a cam­paign op­er­at­ive in North Car­o­lina, he moved to Wash­ing­ton, land­ing a job on the Hill as a staff as­sist­ant to Jim Sensen­bren­ner of Wis­con­sin. He spent a few years at con­ser­vat­ive think tanks be­fore go­ing to work as chief of staff for Rep. Richard Pombo of Cali­for­nia in 1993, the first of five mem­bers of Con­gress he would serve in that ca­pa­city.

While he liked work­ing on the Hill, be­ing a pub­lic ser­vant wasn’t all he had in mind, he tells me. “I wanted to grow that ser­vice through the mil­it­ary,” he says. So, he also re­ceived a com­mis­sion as a pub­lic-af­fairs of­ficer in the Navy Re­serve. He got called to act­ive duty for the first time shortly after 9”Š/”Š11, serving as a pub­lic-af­fairs of­ficer in Guantanamo Bay. He then bounced among the Hill, the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the mil­it­ary, do­ing stints in both the De­fense and State de­part­ments and with the De­part­ment of De­fense Crim­in­al In­vest­ig­a­tion Task Force at Fort Bel­voir. In 2006, he did his first tour in Ir­aq with the Navy Re­serve, go­ing to Bagh­dad, where he handled con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion vis­its and provided ad­vice on con­gres­sion­al mat­ters to Com­mand­ing Gen­er­al Dav­id Pet­raeus.

Upon re­turn­ing from Ir­aq, Miller worked in pub­lic af­fairs at the Nav­al Sur­face War­fare Cen­ter Car­derock Di­vi­sion in Beth­esda, Mary­land, and then, after brief tours of ser­vice in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, in 2012 he went back to the Hill as chief of staff to Rep. Scott Des­Jar­lais of Ten­ness­ee. He then served as a polit­ic­al ad­viser to the Elec­tion Sup­port Cell for the In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity As­sist­ance Force in Ka­bul lead­ing up to the coun­try’s 2014 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

In Janu­ary, he star­ted with IAVA. He tells me that vet­er­ans’ care is a dir­ec­tion he’d been want­ing to head in for a while: “It had been on my mind for some time now to work for an or­gan­iz­a­tion whose main goal is to help vet­er­ans and their fam­il­ies,” he says. For now, that means mak­ing sure the stor­ies of ser­vice mem­bers’ struggles get heard, even if their wounds don’t al­ways show. “We and oth­er groups out there have cre­ated a na­tion­al dia­logue re­gard­ing brain in­jur­ies, PTSD, and sui­cide,” he says. “Men­tal health will al­ways be one of the core is­sues that our mem­bers are con­cerned about. Wheth­er it re­mains a top is­sue, we’ll have to see.”

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