By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Jared Miller deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan four times in four years, contributing valuable combat experience and expertise to every mission. Miller did logistics, collected and delivered Marines’ mail, escorted contractors on and off base, cleared dangerous routes, and drove USMC trucks all over the Middle East.
Between 2007 and 2010, Miller encountered a lot of IEDs and saw a lot of casualties – including members of his units, both from enemy fire in war zones and at home from suicides. Despite the danger and the losses, he kept signing up and going back. “After my first deployment to Ramadi, Iraq in 2007, I volunteered to go to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2008,” he recalled. “They were covering a regimen-level of territory with a battalion of men. They needed boots on the ground.”
After that tour, he spent a few months back at Camp Pendleton, California before the platoon he’d originally deployed with to Iraq was going back to Delaram, Afghanistan in 2009. This time, his job would include using metal detectors to look for buried explosives and he experienced numerous blasts. At the end of that tour, Miller re-enlisted and was immediately deployed back to Afghanistan, this time to Camp Ouellette in 2011, where enemy fighting was heavy because the Afghanis were harvesting their opium crops.
During his 2011 deployment, Miller was hit by another IED – but that didn’t stop him from re-enlisting and accepting orders to Bridgeport, California. He was in training there when he fell. He went to medical. They asked if he had ever had a concussion and told him he might have post-concussion syndrome. Miller had been suffering from dizziness and lightheadedness, and was experiencing some balance issues, but he hadn’t been diagnosed with anything, until he fell. Suddenly, doctors observed that his gait was off—he couldn’t walk or run straight. The stutter that had plagued him as a kid returned and he was no longer allowed to drive.
Further medical evaluation revealed that Miller also struggled with short-term memory loss which was determined to be caused by traumatic brain injury. “If you send me to the store with a list, I’ll come back with only half the stuff,” Miller said. His case manager at Naval Medical Center Balboa recommended he reach out to the local Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office where he was connected with the Society’s combat casualty assistance (CCA) visiting nurse, Luz Florencio. “She was a great lady, very helpful,” said Miller. “She went with me to my neurological appointments. She helped me get Alpha-Stim [a medical device that treats pain, depression, and anxiety] which has helped. She helped me get a prescription for these special light-filtering glasses to help control my double vision and migraines.” Luz also arranged for Miller to get an iPad through the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund so he could take notes and track his appointments to compensate for his memory issues. “These things helped mitigate my disability and not let that disability define me,” Miller explained.
When Miller moved to Sacramento, California, he became a client of another Society CCA visiting nurse, Sue Cruz. Coincidentally, Cruz’ husband had served as commander of one of the units Miller deployed with to Afghanistan. “Sue told me about the FOCUS Marine Foundation, where I found a support team, brothers, peer leaders, and nurses. Everyone there is working for your success. Every Marine who gets out of the Corps is lost in space. They may feel like ‘something’s different, something’s not right,” but combat vets can be prideful and don’t want to ask for help when they get out.” Through FOCUS, and Miller’s CCA visiting nurses, he learned that he could ask for help, and could take advantage of the resources that were available to him.
Since Miller moved to Sacramento last summer, NMCRS CCA Visiting Nurse Sue Cruz has accompanied him to numerous doctor visits at the VA. She also stood by him at a rally at the state capital to advocate for the creation of veterans centers at community colleges. Miller has been attending community college since he was medically retired from the USMC in 2015. “On my first day on campus, parking took forever,” Miller recalled. He was becoming frustrated and anxious. “I called Sue and said, ‘I don’t want to go to class. I’m looking around. Looks like 18- and 19-year-olds.’ She said ‘all you have to do is get out of your car and walk in.’” Miller did walk in. Today, he is working towards earning a degree in a field such as social work that will enable him to help other veterans.
Miller’s own recovery includes participation in weekly group therapy sessions at the VA with others who have experienced polytrauma to learn ways to reduce stress and improve their social and communications skills groups. He also works one-on-one with a speech therapist and a physical therapist. “I’m trying to live in a healthy way,” he said. “If I don’t have structure and purpose, I’ll go back to self-medicating.”
“I know some combat vets that are just bunkered down, living in a cave, disconnected from society,” Miller said. “If they know someone’s in their corner, like an NMCRS visiting nurse, it makes a difference. At the end of the day NMCRS visiting nurses are saving lives.”