Once homeless, veteran now serves others

James at HVAF
James Miller has had many titles over the years; husband, U.S. Air Force veteran, volunteer, but there was one title he never thought he would have − homeless.

A native of Indianapolis, James moved back home and after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1978 where he worked as a nuclear weapons technician and an electronics technician at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).

Following four years of service, James went on to receive an engineering degree from ITT Tech in Indianapolis.

After graduating from college, James’ struggles began. He was employed, but turned to drugs as a source of recreation.

In 1993, due to drug use James became homeless and began couch-surfing, staying at shelters and abandoned homes. To support his drug habit, he sold his belongings. He was homeless for ten years.  While it may be difficult to comprehend for those who have never experienced homelessness, James said that reintegrating was difficult because he actually became accustomed to being homeless.

With limited options, he learned about HVAF during a visit to the Veterans Affairs benefits office and decided to enter HVAF’s recovery program in 2002. His journey out of homelessness was not without set-backs. It took him four years to graduate from the program because he relapsed.

HVAF’s recovery program helps homeless veterans recover from substance abuse and drugs and reintegrate into meaningful employment in the civilian labor force through a variety of services that address the complex problems they face.

James continued to visit HVAF periodically after he left the recovery program. It’s where he learned of a job opportunity at HVAF as Peer Mentor. He was hired in 2012. As Peer Mentor, James travels to three housing properties: Warman, Manchester, and Moreau to meet with veterans and their case managers to identify those who are struggling and in need of a “mentor.”

James also manages two groups which meet weekly. The Vet to Vet group allows veterans the chance to bond and share their struggles and be supportive of one other. A Recovery group aimed at focusing on veterans who are dealing with a substance use disorder is also facilitated by James.

“I am not afraid to be transparent with my own struggles with addiction and homelessness,” says James. “Having been a former client and having struggled for so long it impressed upon me this notion that what I do really matters. HVAF has been a big part of my life and if I can help one person then everything I went through had a purpose and value.”

James keeps a busy schedule.

In May 2013, James received an Associate Degree in Human Services from Ivy Tech.
In June, James received a “Case Manager Certificate” from the Indianapolis Case Management Institute (ICMI)  which is a 6-month training program launched by United Way of Central Indiana designed to help case managers serving at-risk individuals who need services and techniques for self-care to prevent burnout.

James is also a full-time student at IUPUI and will receive his BA in Social Work in May 2017.

He is using his journey through homelessness to inspire others.