People of Housing Security:
Monroe County’s Veteran Service Officer works with regional case conferencing initiative to help house veterans.
As a 20-year military veteran, Steve Miller brings both experience and expertise to the regional collaboration working to end veteran homelessness.
Steve is the Veteran Service Officer for Monroe County. He leads a team that works to connect veterans, surviving spouses and families to benefits and resources of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA). Much of that work involves helping veterans file disability and pension claims. Steve’s team also partners with the Indiana University Center for Veteran & Military Students to help get VA education benefits.
In addition, Steve and Andrew Blake, the county’s new veterans benefits coordinator, attend this region’s bi-weekly veterans case conferencing meetings. Veteran case conferencing, launched in January of 2023 and facilitated by Heading Home staff, is an inter-agency, client-focused initiative that targets next steps to find housing for veterans. You can learn more about the effort here.
Since January, 16 local veterans have been housed.
“We see a lot of folks struggling to maintain a standard of living and housing,” Steve said. “The cost of living in Monroe County is a huge problem. I hear that on a weekly basis.”
When veterans experiencing homelessness contact the county service office, Steve refers them to the veterans case conferencing group. “I’m very impressed by the number of people working on this and the depth of knowledge that folks have,” Steve said, “and the care that people genuinely have to get people back on their feet and into housing.” Housing is only one of many issues, and Steve notes that case managers also work to fill in gaps of care, such as getting medical treatment or mental health counseling. “It’s heartening to see the kind of help that people are providing to folks in our community.”
Some veterans are on the brink of being unhoused, either due to eviction or unexpected expenses. That’s when resources like a grant from the Military Family Relief Fund, run by the Indiana Dept. of Veteran Affairs, might help.
Though resources are available, navigating the system can be complicated and overwhelming, Steve said. “It’s always our goal to not send people away with paperwork they have to fill out themselves. We try to take out a lot of the mystery and effort, and make it as simple and smooth as possible.”
There are about 6,700 known veterans living in Monroe County. Each year, the VA provides almost $57 million in pensions, compensation, medical care, insurance payouts and other benefits to local veterans. Many veterans don’t yet take advantage of the resources available to them, so Steve spends part of his time doing outreach, like writing a monthly column for the Bloomington Herald-Times and making connections through Bloomington Senior Advocates and other groups.
“The cost of living in Monroe County is a huge problem. I hear that on a weekly basis.”Steve Miller
Steve’s background gives him credibility, empathy and experience to do this job. After growing up in Terre Haute, he spent four years in the Air Force. He then moved to Bloomington to study at Indiana University. But partway into his studies, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred. He was deployed in December of that year and unable to complete his coursework.
When he finished that deployment, Steve returned to Bloomington but struggled to figure out what he wanted to do next. Ultimately, he got a full-time job in the Air National Guard, serving at the Hulman Field Air National Guard Base in Terre Haute. He was as an active duty reservist for 16 years, retiring in 2016 as a Senior Master Sergeant in imagery intelligence.
Steve then went back to school, this time at Indiana State University. He graduated with a degree in human resources development in 2017. By that time he was married to Jenny Goodwin. In May of 2017 they moved to Bloomington to work at the IU Hospital. Jenny took a nursing job, and Steve worked in HR.
It was a great experience, Steve said, but he was drawn to the public sector and after two years took a job in the City of Bloomington’s HR department. In 2021, the Monroe County veteran service officer job opened up, and Steve applied. “It really did feel like a dream come true to give back in a meaningful way and give back to people who have done so much for all of us.”
He hopes that more veterans and their families become aware that his office exists to help them. The VA is a very complicated organization, and getting benefits can be time-consuming and sometimes heartbreaking, he said. A 1973 fire in the National Archives destroyed records for about 22 million veterans, so there might not be a record of a veteran’s injury, illness or disease that they got on active duty. That means when they apply for benefits 40 or 50 years later, sometimes they get denied. Steve and his team help navigate obstacles like that.
Steve urges veterans and their families to make sure to keep their DD214, a discharge document that’s proof of military service. It’s the entry ticket for all benefits.
Outside of work, Steve is an avid solo cyclist. “It’s how I clear my head,” he said, noting that the job can be emotionally and physically draining. A self-described B-Line junkie, Steve rides the trail frequently enough to be considered a regular. And later this month he’ll be going on a bucket list bike tour of northern Italy with some family members, starting in the Dolomite mountain range then meeting his wife in Venice.
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.