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.