Veteran helps others navigate complicated system of services

MARYSVILLE — Raymond Miller would like to retire.

He’s dedicated his life to helping out veterans. After serving in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years, he went to work for the Veterans Administration as a clerk in 1984.

When veterans came through the door looking for assistance, Miller was often the first person they talked to.

“All these guys were still fighting the war,” Miller said.

“I just wanted to understand what was happening with these guys,” he said.

He remained active in the veteran’s community, helping start up the Washington state command council of the National Association of Black Veterans in 2002 and functioning as a service officer for them until he left to get a master’s in clinical psychology a few years later.

Starting in 2009, he worked as a veterans service officer under the name of Vets Place Northwest/Welcome Home out of the Everett offices of Therapeutic Health Services.

It was an outreach and referral program, ensuring veterans would get the care they needed and helping negotiate the oftentimes Byzantine bureaucracy of social services.

Those needs include filing for disability benefits, getting into the VA system, getting psychiatric evaluations, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, finding housing … whatever a veteran needs.

He estimates over the years he’s helped more than 1,000 veterans and their families go from homelessness into stable housing, or even owning their own homes.

February was when Miller, 65, decided to retire.

Only thing is, work won’t let him.

“It seems like a lot of veterans keep calling me,” Miller said.

Mostly, they’re getting referred to him via word-of-mouth, although he’s sure his phone number is still listed on some referral services’ website.

One client told him he got a referral from his mailman, who was himself a formerly homeless veteran with PTSD.

Other times, he’d get referrals from the local chapters of the NAACP or local black veterans groups.

“I think half of America knows it,” he said. “I get at least two calls a day from veterans.”

So he keeps working out of his Marysville home, or occasionally going out to meet clients at a nearby coffee shop.

That’s what he did Friday with Joshua Wixson, meeting at an Everett Starbucks store.

Wixson, a Navy veteran who lives in Everett, has been struggling with a mixture of symptoms since he left the service four years ago. He’d filed a claim with the VA a year ago, he said, but not heard back, and was looking to see what he could do.

Wixson struggled with an inability to sleep, anxiety and other issues since shortly after enlisting. He was involved in anti-piracy actions in the Gulf of Aden, but his symptoms gradually grew worse. He could not get medication while still in the service, and only recently started up on some.

“On a personal level I probably need to see a shrink,” Wixson said. He added that during a 90-minute conversation with Miller he was given a number to another VA facility in Mount Vernon, which he intends to contact soon.

He’s already on partial disability, Miller said, adding “he probably should be at 100 percent disabled.”

Miller estimates that he’s met 15-20 people since he “retired” in February, helping them work the VA system or obtain other benefits.

“For a lot of people, readjustment to civilian life is traumatic,” Miller said.

He said there are 75,000 veterans living in Snohomish County, and while most of them probably don’t need critical help, the county only has two veterans service officers on its staff.

“We’re not maximizing our effort, in my opinion,” he said.

He has dialed back his work, in that he’s no longer visiting homeless shelters or looking for people in marginal circumstances.

“But if they come to me, get my phone number and give me call, I’m going to keep putting them in the right place,” Miller said.

“Those are our brothers and sisters, and we’re in the same sorority or fraternity,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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