Our Mission to Help Veterans

Harvey MorrisPodcast

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 1

Road Home Program Team members share what makes the Road Home Program at Rush unique among organizations helping veterans and family members dealing with the invisible wounds of war.

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of The Road Home Program at Rush: So, good day everybody. My name is Will Beiersdorf. I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home program here at Rush University Medical Center. And today is our, I guess we would call it our inaugural, our kickoff to the Road Home Program podcast. This is our opportunity and, to share who, what, where, when, why all the different things about what is the Road Home Program. And first and foremost, the Road Home Program is focused on serving vets and family members. And again, when we say veterans, we also include and mean active duty service members, National Guardsmen, women, reservists, anybody who has served. And, you know, our focus is trying to, our goal, our mission is to compassionately serve veterans, family members, service members, all these other folks dealing with the invisible wounds of war, and do that in a compassionate caring way. So today, we’re going to talk about that mission and more importantly, we’re going to talk about what makes Road Home different and unique because there’s a variety of different veteran organizations and service organizations out there helping veterans that are dealing with these invisible wounds of war. And just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, you know, we’re talking about PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder. We’re also talking about military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, TBI, a variety of different things. But the key is that Road Home’s mission is to actually care for and serve veterans, family members, and service members dealing with the invisible wounds of war and life. So, and again, I’m a veteran myself, I have served in the Army National Guard as a military policeman, you know, as our community would recognize that as a 95 Bravo. And then I also had the opportunity to serve in the Naval Reserves as a Master at Arms, an MA, too. So again, sometimes people would say, “Will, are you a little confused? You know, what happened there? You were in the Army and then you went to the Navy?” But in all good jest, regardless of the service we’ve served in, it was an honor to serve and I’m grateful for that experience. And it brought me to, to the Road Home and to Rush. So, and today, what we’re going to talk about, again, the mission of Road Home, things we do. But I’ve asked Chris Miller, who is one of our Outreach Coordinators here at the Road Home Program, to join me and talk about those things that we do. And so, what I’m going to do is just take a moment here and just let Chris Miller introduce himself and tell us a little bit about himself. So, Chris, can you give us a few minutes of our background about yourself and, you know, your role, responsibilities at Road Home? And also why are you here? Why are you with us? 

Christopher Miller, Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: Sure, great questions. And usually, when you mix a soldier and a sailor, you get a version of a Marine. So, we won’t hold that against him.  He could be an honorary marine.

Will Beiersdorf: Typical Marine, here we go. Go ahead. Go ahead. 

Christopher Miller: I am a Marine Corps veteran. I moved to Chicago a little over 10 years ago, and that was right around the time when I met you, Will. I served from 2000 to 2004 in the Marine Corps. I was in the infantry on a mobile. We call it a CAAT platoon. So, Humvees, Mercedes trucks with big guns on top and riding around, doing our thing. A very enjoyable experience for me. I had the interesting, unique opportunity of serving prior to 9/11. Watching 9/11 unfold right before I was going out to a machine gun shoot at a machine gun range and then subsequently deploying to Iraq during the invasion in ’03. I was there for about nine months. I came back home and became an urban warfare instructor teaching young Marines who were on their way to deploy to Iraq how to fight in urban environments. And then I left the service in 2004. Between 2004 and when I met you, Will, I sort of bounced around all over the country. I lived in Hollywood, lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, a couple different places in my home state of Kentucky, where I enlisted out of, and where I was born and raised. And along that timeline of going to school and figuring out my way in life, my path in life, what I’m going to be doing, I met my wife. She was telecommuting for a Chicago-based company in Louisville, Kentucky. Just walking across the street, we met each other and the rest is history. We’re still happily married to this day. We decided to move here to Chicago. At the time I was a chef. A lot of my background is split between two career fields, mental healthcare, and culinary arts. I remember very clearly, it was about seven years ago, not too far, not that long ago, I was at the sushi bar that I was running in Palatine, Illinois. Will came in with his white baseball hat on backward and sweatshirt and said, “Hey, you know, we’re doing this thing at Rush. We don’t know what it’s gonna be yet. Why don’t you throw your hat in the ring, see what happens?” And I did. And that really changed the trajectory of my life and where it’s gone, what I’ve been able to do. I really enjoy cooking. I still cook for my family on a daily, every meal basis, but being able to get back into an arena, having a platform and a voice where I’m able to help other veterans who have struggled with PTSD, trauma experiences, and things like that. I’ve dealt with things myself. I’ve seen the lows, the low lows. And I’ve seen how recovery works, from my own perspective, recovering with use, with the help of traditional therapy, being engaged with my family, family therapy, and different modalities that were able to get me back on my feet. And one of those was the help of a strong community. A community of veterans, yourself, your family, Will, the local, the veteran community. I just got plugged into a community of people that were willing to help. And I listened, I was able to get help and now I’m able to sort of pay that back and be able to help others, which is a fantastic opportunity. And I get to try different, different ways to do that. Whether it’s through podcasts like this, digital media, getting out in front of people and talking, talking in front of large groups. Just, if somebody has ears, or can hear, I want to be able to tell them my story, or why the Road Home Program is good. So that’s sort of a very short summation, I guess, of how I got into the Marine Corps.

Will Beiersdorf: So there’s so much more to share there, Chris. And again, you’ve hit on there. I mean, I’ll never forget when I did reach out to you and maybe we’ll take out another step back here. Because I think there’s some folks who asked me in the community, “You know, what has the Road Home been around forever? I mean, how did it start?” And literally, the way it came about was, you know, in 2013, I was asked to come to Rush. And this is before there was a veteran program or anything here at Rush, or even the Road Home Program formally. But then the chair of psychiatry, Dr. Mark Pollack, asked me to come on board to help start this program. And that’s, again, where Chris came in. Because I started to look into figuring out how do we set up a mental Behavioral Health Center and helping vets with PTSD and other things of that nature? I mean, again, I’m what I call a recovering accountant/auditor. So as well, as you know, again, I’m a veteran as well, too, and having served – I didn’t say this earlier – but I served Enduring Freedom. In support of Enduring Freedom, did almost a year in Guantanamo Bay, right, literally after September 11th, 2001. And then, you know, 10 years before that, I was serving in Germany, activated for Desert Storm, you know, Operation Desert Storm. So, I had experienced, you know, a lot of different things, as well. But having been asked to come to Rush to start a program, I just knew the key was to make sure we focus on the veteran, the service member, and their family, and always include the family. So, Dr. Pollack in Rush leadership and all the other folks, and there’s so many folks to kind of chime in or kind of talk about, but at a high level, they saw the need for this and so Dr. Pollack gave me the opportunity to develop this. And again, there’s no “I” in “team” so I quickly looked for a lot of different folks with different experiences to help build this together and pull us together, but always keeping the focus on the service member/veterans/family member. And I think, Chris, you’ll agree we’ve done that because you were part of that ground floor in those early days.

Christopher Miller: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite things about what we do here at Rush and who we are able to help. It’s not, our criteria, it’s not just a certain section of veterans, a certain chunk of the population if you will. If you served, that’s all that we ask. If you served one day, things happened in boot camp and it didn’t work out, you served. You attempted, you made that effort and that works for us. If you served 30 years, that’s awesome, as well. Navy, Army, Air Force, soon-to-be Space Force, you know, it doesn’t matter to us, as long as you took that leap and that commitment. Raised the right hand, took your oath. And the family members are as broad, as well. You define that as family, that works for us. I really enjoy it, the reduction and reducing barriers to care for people that need help. I mean, that’s, you couldn’t ask for anything better than a program, a hospital, that’s supportive of all veterans and their families, as they define that. I really enjoy that.

Will Beiersdorf: You know, Chris, you know, the one thing I just want to make sure I mention is that my initial, you know, interaction with you and others in the community really showed me the importance of family, you know, focusing on the family. And I think if there’s anything we want to get out of this particular podcast, the mission, vision, values of the Road Home Program here at Rush, we just want to make sure that, you know, family plays a key role, you know, with us connecting with the service member or the veteran. So, again, you were part of that equation, and helped me understand that and what we developed here Rush and reducing the barriers to care, right? And providing that pathway regardless of if a veteran or service member has, you know, has got these different challenges, regardless of their ability to pay, regardless of insurance, regardless, honestly, of discharge status. I think that’s a big question that comes up, right, Chris? We hear time and time again, “You know, what, I don’t necessarily have a clean record here. I’ve got some issues.” Just show us your DD 214, and again, that’s what I call the, you know, service member’s birth certificate, you know, when you were born into the military and when you retired, right? Or when you left. But you’re always a part of the community. The DD 214 is a key part and regardless of whatever happened, whether it’s honorable, less than honorable, dishonorable, Road Home cares for those veterans and their families. In fact, many times, Chris, you know, is first and foremost, sometimes we just take care of the family members, and we might not see the veteran or the service member themselves. It might take some time, but they’re the bridge, right?

Christopher Miller: Yeah. I mean, you couldn’t have said better – the family members, at least in my experience, when I was struggling, even though I was struggling and my first thoughts were, how can my family, you know, let’s get the family taken care of. And I think there’s other veterans that are there like myself that will put others first. That what we’re sort of ingrained with is to put the team first, put the family first and we’ll deal with our own issues later. Sometimes that can get you into trouble. We’re here to help with that. But, yeah, if you can take care of the family. It’s huge. My kids have come here and received services outside of myself or my wife, and that’s a fantastic resource that’s available for folks that are living here. Or wherever they may be.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, yeah. I mean, good point, Chris. And, you know, what I’d like to do going forward here, as we continue this conversation and this podcast is, I think we’re really hitting some big, some key marks here. But, again, you’ve been with us, you know, from the beginning. I mean, you took a little time off and you did some different things and you came back. But I want to go back to asking you why you think folks should come to the Road Home Program? If they’ve got somebody they know or someone that has, you know, some challenges? Again, they might not even know themselves, right? What is it about our program that, I guess, sets us apart from our peers? Even though, again, we are very collaborative, right? We work with our veterans administration hospitals and centers. And, you know, again, we were really a team in this, but I wanted to ask you and see if you could share with the folks that would be listening today both veteran servicemen or a family member, you know, what is it that sets Road Home apart? You know, what are the things that make us different, you know, in a positive way, for the person seeking care? 

Christopher Miller: Sure. I think the easy answer, and my mind immediately went to it was the same thing that makes the military, the platoon that you serve and special, it’s the team. The team here, the combination of the clinical staff, some of the best doctors in the world, to treat trauma are here devoting their lives towards treating veterans and their trauma. The administrative staff, the veterans on staff, from top to bottom, everyone on the staff. One, excellent at what they do in their position. So, top-notch doctors, top-notch nurses, top-notch therapists, social workers, you name it. But that’ll only get you so far. That’ll only get you, you know, about 80% of the way. That other 20% is something that I think we ask in every interview, at least we have historically, was “Why do you care about veterans?” A lot of the time they’re related to a veteran. They served themselves. A spouse or siblings served. That extra bit where there’s a level of care that goes beyond your day to day job, your professionalism, that I specifically care about this population, about veterans and their families, is what takes the Road Home Program a little over the top, in my opinion, is the fact that people are amazing at their job, and they care. And that’s a winning recipe. You know, you’re in a firefight, your squad’s around you. They’re hopefully good at their job and they care about you as a person. That’s a recipe for a good squad, a good fire team, a good platoon, you name it and carries over here. It’s a great recipe for an amazing staff.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, yeah, you couldn’t have said it any better, Chris. I mean, you’re exactly right. It is about the team and their passion for serving veterans and service members and family members. But also, the other thing, too, and I want you to tell me what, you know, again, from your perspective, the cornerstone, or the foundation of any organization are its values, right? The core values that we, that we have here at the Road Home here at Rush. At Rush and Road Home, you know, we’ve embraced the Rush values of what we call the ICARE values. And, Chris, you know, these are Innovation, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence. And those values are critical to any organization, to any individual. You have to have some core values because it kind of sets you, you know, kind of gives you a foundation to make sure that you can be successful in whatever endeavor. And so, when we talk about those things, we talked about innovation, I mean, Road Home has been allowed to, and we’ve given our whole team, the opportunity to be innovative in the care, the things that they do. You know we have our own boundaries and things of that nature, but innovation is a key fundamental. Collaboration. We can’t do this alone. Chris, we always talk about this, you know, it’s you need a team to work together. So the whole community, whether it’s our donors, whether it’s our other veteran service organizations, or other peers and partners, collaboration is critical to making Road Home or any organization successful. And then accountability is probably the fundamental point because we want to say, you’re going to do something, right, Chris, you’re going to deliver right and follow through and hold yourself accountable. And then, be respectful. And also do it, as I always say, in a spirit of excellence. Always have that wraparound of excellence. And so, those are the values and I know, Chris, you know, you could kind of dovetail on this a little bit, but, I think that’s the thing that everybody here throughout home embraces, and they believe in that. And they truly try to live it as best they can.

Christopher Miller: Absolutely. You know, a few years ago, I came to you and I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about, you know, going my separate ways, leaving the Road Home Program to try a startup, a new company. Let’s see how it works.” And your guidance to me was to stick to those mission, vision, and values, those are crucially important. At the time, I thought, “Okay, maybe it is, maybe we’ll see.” And once I got into that role, and tried to launch a company, it couldn’t have been more true. That is your foundation, your backbone, would you wake up doing. Your mission, vision values. You know, it just has to become a part of who you are or success just doesn’t follow. I couldn’t agree more. And that’s part of the draw of coming back, I was able to come back a few months ago, again, because of the team, the mission, the vision, the values. That’s what I want to be around and it enables me to be my best person to go out and help other vets, so I couldn’t agree more.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, and again, I’ve come to understand that over all my years of working that, you know, no organization can exist, you know, without a strong culture, you know, based on some core values, right? I mean, that is essential. And we know, in the military, too, you know, there are certain core values, and that’s, again, that’s what makes the military successful in any organization. So, I wanted to ask you another question and kind of share with the folks here. So we talked about why Road Home, we talked about the mission, the vision, values, but um, you know, and you’ve been here pretty much since the beginning, but, um, are there, is there any other stories you can share, other things you can share with folks that you’ve come across? Folks that, again, so difficult to get in and to just really give us that chance? I mean, do you have anything you want to share? Because I know, we all have different experiences and, you know, is there something you can share with the folks and with the community, you know, that you’ve seen and really has been like a great, you know, success?  Whether it’s a veteran or even family member of a veteran, that would resonate with them as a, because, again, let’s be honest, right? We both know that there’s a lot of folks out there struggling to get their loved one in or they don’t know where to go or what to do. So any thoughts or any particular story or, you know, testimonial of some sort that you could share that would give people a little extra push to seek us out?

Christopher Miller: Yeah, I remember, this was probably in 2015, if my memory’s right. I met a lady. She was from the Philippines, maybe in her early 60s. She approached me with a stack of papers, you know, this big. She was having trouble getting services for her husband. Her husband had Alzheimer’s and also was having trouble, physical health problems and trouble speaking and stuff like that. Being able to meet her, understand her challenges. She was having trouble getting services at, for their condo and their healthcare at the VA. And the documents weren’t very clear. And I thought what do we do? You know, how can we help this lady? How can we help her husband? He’s a veteran, but the documents didn’t necessarily show that, didn’t prove that. We tried pulling information from the archive, the National Archives, through the channels that we normally use and it didn’t work. And I was afraid that we might not be able to help this lady, you know, I didn’t know what to do. So, I reached out to the community. I think the gentleman’s name is Wayne Macejak, he’s with the American Legion down in Chicago at the Taylor Street office. And he just happened to say, “I know this guy in St. Louis. He works for the National Archives. He might be able to help you out. Here’s his phone number. I haven’t spoken to him in eight years. Good luck.” So, I made the phone call. He picked up right away. I said, “Here’s the deal. You know, I don’t have a DD 214.” Like you mentioned earlier. What can I do to prove, you know, this gentleman’s a veteran, so that he can get help with the VA? He can get help here at Rush and everywhere. And within 30 minutes, he faxed me his entire packet, all of his information. And the gentleman was able to go to the VA, utilize our services, go and access benefits that he hadn’t used since when he served in the Vietnam era. He was a Vietnam-era reservist and he had not been able to access any of those benefits since the early ’70s. So, being able to make the connections with the help of the community, reach out to someone you know, halfway across the country and be able within less than an hour to help a family that had been struggling for a long time. They were able to get housing, health care, you name it. That’s the one story that always resonates and makes me feel good about what I was able to do, what we are able to do here at the Road Home Program, and what the community of veterans here in Chicago was able to do. Come together, even if it’s in an insignificant way or here’s a phone number, somebody I haven’t spoken with. That one always makes me happy. 

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, that, you know, again, and that goes back to some of the core values, I mean, collaboration, you know, and accountability, and you’re following through and doing those things. And it seemed like a little thing, but it turned into something significant. I’ll just share one quick story that I had walking from, from my office one evening, and I was going into the parking garage, you know, here at the Road Home Program. You know, we’re basically on the west side of Chicago at Paulina and Jackson, 1645 West Jackson. And anyway, there’s a parking garage. I was going to the parking garage and there was a young man who actually had locked himself out of the car. He was very frustrated, and it was really going through. I mean, I understand because I’ve locked my keys in the car, too. But I proceeded to help get some of the folks from the building to help out. We got him and he was able to get to his job. Well, I didn’t know who he was, I just thought he was somebody that was, you know, just coming in and out of the building. But came to realize a few weeks later, with a little note, once this, because this young man didn’t know who I was. I didn’t say, “Hey, I’m Will Beiersdorf from the Road Home Program.” But, he found out that I was, and I got a note from him. and I said, “Look, you know, that day you helped me, I was able to get to my appointment. He was trying to register for school, I mean, just little things that we do. And I think, and I was really grateful. And really, that’s the spirit of Road Home. And that’s what I want to get across, we want to get across to the community that is the Road Home, when we do those little things. And again, this had nothing to do with mental health, right? This has nothing to do with the core services of those invisible wounds of war. But, that’s why I want people to understand and know that, you know, we are here to listen, understand and see what we can do to help. And honestly, sometimes we might not be able to help, right, Chris? We come across folks that we can’t help and it’s sad, we can’t, we can’t help everybody. But at least we can listen, and then we can assess, and we can figure out how to connect people to services. I did want to take a quick moment, just if anyone else is just joining the podcast here. Again, this is Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director for the Road Home Program. I’m with Chris Miller, who is one of our Outreach Coordinators here at the Road Home Program at Rush. And we’re talking about the, you know, mission, vision and values of Road Home, who we are, what we do, here on the inaugural Road Home podcast. So, I just want to make sure I push that out. So, is there anything else, Chris? You know, we talked about Road Home. We talked about, you know, the services, the programs we provide. The spirit of Road Home, which I think is critical. But is there anything else that we want to share with folks about Road Home or about us, again, that would help them understand, you know, get who we are, and whether, you know, this is the right place, you know, for either themselves or one of our loved ones seeking, you know, care or services, or even again, those things that are off the beaten path, right? Any other thoughts on that or any other perspective? 

Christopher Miller: Yeah. One of the things that I always like to do, when I’m explaining my story or giving a testimonial, if you will, it always centers around three things. Where you’ve come from, where you are now, and then where do you go. And I always remember, back in 2013, we sat around your kitchen table at your house and we thought what are we going to be able to do with this program? Maybe we’ll be able to see 50 patients a year for luck around the west side of Chicago. And, and that’d be a great success for us at the time. And that’s, we were able to do that in 2013. And what we’ve been able to do since 2013, to now to 2020. The additional program, additional staff, we’re seeing hundreds of patients a year from Chicago, and now we’re flying people in from, from all over the country, from all over the world. And we’re able to do so much. So much good. In the new programs, the new initiatives, the innovation that you mentioned, here at Rush, the Intensive Outpatient programs, thinking fast on our feet, COVID hits. Let’s do it virtually. Now, we have a virtual intensive outpatient program. There’s just so much that we can do that it’s, it’s mind-blowing to me.

Will Beiersdorf: I know.

Christopher Miller: How far we’ve come from, from sitting around the kitchen table to where we are now.

Will Beiersdorf: It truly, again it, you know, I didn’t know either Chris. I mean, I’ll be honest, when we were building it, I was, I was, you know, slated with this responsibility and I was thinking, “I’ve never done this before. I’ve never built a clinic before.” But again, I took a step back and we started to assemble a team, I mean, finding the right people at the right time. And in future podcasts, we’re going to talk about those things. We’re going to have other guests that have been instrumental in the beginning. So, for example, Chris, we’re gonna be talking with Dr. Pollack, at some point, which should be enjoyable. We’re gonna be talking with Dr. Karnik. And then we’re also going to start to talk in future podcasts about, we’ll have a few testimonials, a few folks that have actually gone through the program. And more importantly, we’ll talk more about our programs and services so folks can learn more. But I think, I think for the most part today, what we’ve accomplished, and tell me because what, let me know what you think here, but did we hit all the main points here? I mean, to kind of, you know, give people just enough, you know, so again, as we go with future podcasts, is there anything else we missed, or anything else we could share, just to kind of lead into the next opportunities, we can speak with the community, you know, through our, through the Road Home podcast, you know, the podcast, the Road Home?

Christopher Miller: I think this might be a good foundation. You know, we’ve talked about where we come from. Very, very small beginnings here on the west side of Chicago. I’m very, I can’t wait to tune in for myself and see what Dr. Karnik and Dr. Pollack, two of the smartest people I’ve ever met and their takes on what we’ve, where we’ve come from, and what we’re able to do, and, and the unique ways that we’re able to serve the veteran community. Dr. Pollack, he wrote the book on trauma, I believe, and PTSD. And he’s got a fantastic story. Dr. Karnik, the same thing. He’s a fascinating and very dynamic individual. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the episodes as well.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah. And you know, what’s great is that even though they’ve moved on, Dr. Pollack is no longer here at Rush and Niranjan is actually doing some other projects and things. We’ve got incredible leadership now at the helm, as well, that it picked up and that’s the beauty. And it goes back again, to the core values. Everybody believes in the mission, you know, lives it and then also tries to keep, to stay on the foundation of those values as we continue to innovate and collaborate and, you know, hold ourselves accountable and always treat everybody with respect in the spirit of excellence and so that continues today. And so we’ll talk more about that with other team members you know, that make the Road Home Program a great success.


About Road Home Program: The Podcast

Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.

The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.