Dog Tag Inc.

Harvey MorrisPodcast, VSO Partners

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 11

We’re giving them those fundamental tools to kind of redefine who they are, find that purpose in life again…then use those tools to move forward in their careers.“

Dog Tag Inc.’s Chicago Program Manager and Army veteran, Justin Miller, shares how the organization cooks up ways for military members to enter the workforce and learn entrepreneurial skills. 

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Good Day to everyone joining us. This is the Road Home Program, the podcast. And I am Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director. I like the sound out of that, Executive Director of the Road Home Program. And today’s Road Home podcast, we’re talking with a great friend, partner, peer, Justin Miller, who is the Program Manager for Dog Tag Inc., here in Chicago. And you know, we’re honored to have Justin Miller with us today to learn more about what he’s doing. And his team. Again, he doesn’t do it alone. For the work he does with veterans and family members at Dog Tag Inc. Before I let Justin kind of get on a roll here and start talking, I just want to take a minute to let people know a little bit about the Road Home Program. So, if you’re new to this podcast, and you, you’ve not heard about the Road Home Program, the Road Home Program cares for veterans, current serving and really active duty members and their families who may be battling the invisible wounds of war and life. And those being PTSD, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury and other challenges that service members or veterans may be facing. You know, the RHP has been caring for veterans, military members and their families for over almost eight years, actually. And I believe to date, we served well over 2,800 veteran family members. So, we’ve done a lot of work. And RHP has outpatient services, as well as our Intensive Outpatient Program, you’ll hear it referred to occasionally as the IOP. And if you want to learn more about those services, and who we are, you can go to or you can call us at 312 942 8387. 312 942 VETS. So, let’s talk with, I know Justin’s dying because he likes to talk here, so let’s talk with our guest, Justin Miller from Dog Tag. So hey, so tell us, Justin about yourself and, and then tell us a little bit about what you’re doing with Dog Tag Inc.

Justin Miller, Army Veteran and Chicago Program Manager at Dog Tag Inc.: Yeah, Will. Thanks for having me on the podcast. Love this idea. I might steal it for Dog Tag. It sounds really cool. Something that we can do to build a community. As you mentioned, and I’ll just self introduce, you know, my name is Justin Miller. I’m the Chicago Program Manager for Dog Tag. I’ve been in the veteran space here in Chicagoland for 10 years now. It seems forever. I exited the service out of the Army after two deployments to Iraq in 2011. That was January. I technically separated a couple months before that, I was on terminal leave. I started my undergrad, you know, got into technology, I thought that was the way forward. I really didn’t like it. Got into a business class and I just fell for it. So, I completed my undergrad in Business and Marketing. Worked my way into corporate America and started volunteering on the side for student veterans because it was just such a passion project for me while I was going through my undergrad. I quickly realized that corporate America was not for me. I had a passion to serve and to continue to serve my peers. So thankfully, I found an opportunity at Road Home Program. And that really started my, my efforts in the veteran space as a professional. So since I’ve spent, you know, been working for you, Will, for two years at Road Home, I graduated to the USO in their military transition program, working with individuals actively leaving the military and helping them, you know, find that transition and those resources so we could get them out of the military safely and have a soft landing here in Chicagoland area. You know, all the while, you know helping Roll Call Chicagoland, ended up as just a volunteer leader there. And then now, I find myself working at Dog Tag, which is an incredible mission. It’s very much a startup entrepreneurial, you know, business nonprofit for veterans, spouses, caregivers. So we serve the, the military community, much like you guys do. It’s a very inclusive, you know, first step. You know, are you currently serving? Are you a post-9/11 vet with service-connected disabilities? Current former military spouses and caregivers. So, we really have a wide spectrum of eligibility. And what we do here is we send these folks through a 16 person cohort for five months that teaches them everything about business fundamentals, and how they can, you know, go on and take all of this knowledge and become their own boss. You know, really start that entrepreneurial journey. And at least that’s usually the case in our graduates, but some also go back into, you know, the regular workforce, and they maybe even go back into school. So, really, at the end of the day, we’re giving them those fundamental tools to kind of redefine who they are. Find that purpose in life again, and then, and then use those tools to move forward in their careers.

Will Beiersdorf: No, that’s, that’s great, Justin. And you know, I love this story. You know, it’s funny, I don’t know how many years back, you know, I talked with some of your leadership, Megan and Jamie. She had been here in Chicago, we talked about that. And I love the concept of it. I love the bakery part. Actually, I know you’ll talk about that in a second. Not that I need, not that I need the bakery part, you know, but, but I love the, I love what you guys produce. And I know it’s not about the bakery. You’ll tell us more about that. But hey.

Justin Miller: Sure. 

Will Beiersdorf: One thing I wanted to ask you was, and I don’t know if you know, I mean, can you tell folks a little bit about the background? Because you know, as I was, and I love the website, too. It’s very informative, very helpful. But, you know, I was really intrigued, you know, by how these things got kicked off with Father Rick and Candice Milstein, is it? Constance? 

Justin Miller: Yeah. Connie, 

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah. Connie. And Father Rick. I just love that. Can you just real quickly, just tell a quick snapshot of that. Because honestly, with any organization, you know, it takes a spark and it takes that individual or a couple individuals to really push things. But what, tell, tell folks a little bit about the history and how things got kicked off if can you do it in a quick fashion.

Justin Miller: Sure. Yeah. And, and I’m fairly new to the organization, I think I’ve been with Dog Tag four months now? So, I’m still honing my, my history of Dog Tag. But so, so Brother Curry is a Jesuit brother and Connie Milstein. Connie, Connie and Rick got together and founded this bakery. And essentially, it’s a lot of Father Curry’s past, right? Of being a born with one-arm Jesuit brother, wanting to serve the disability disabled community through theater and helping people find their voice, which is actually a component of our fellowship program, we actually have that, as a class. We teach Finding Your Voice every other week for three hours, which is really helping our fellows, you know, brand themselves, get to know who they are, find that purpose. So he had that desire to serve folks with disabilities, and then expanded on that, during, you know, post 9/11, when a lot of our troops were coming back to Walter Reed, spending a lot of time with veterans realizing that we needed to do something more. We needed to put them into the workforce. And so Connie came in with this idea and they both had this bakery background. And so the bakery was set up in D.C. in 2014. And the bakery is just like a normal, normal cafe or bakery. You walk in and it, very obviously military-themed, but just like any small business, you would walk in, but upstairs, you know, we’ve got the classroom where we bring in this fellowship program. And it was a really cool synergy between building business fundamentals and exposing our fellows to, like, real-life small business, right? So, we have our front of house, back of house. The fellows get to go through work, you know, we what we call rotations. It’s really spending time with our staff. Not necessarily making brownies but, but, the idea of making that widget, right? That business fundamental behind figuring out financing and budgeting and marketing and communications and product development. All these fundamentals that come into small business. So, that was kind of the history behind where Dog Tag started, you know, seven years ago now. And here we are today expanding to Chicago. So, I’m really excited that I get to kind of take that adventure and, and bring it to our community here. 

Will Beiersdorf: Well, Justin, you know, we’re grateful to have you here in Chicago, especially for me being a homegrown Chicagoan. You know, it’s great to continue. And I love the fact that here in Chicago, in Illinois, we’ve got a lot of veteran, VSOs, they’re doing a lot of great work. You know, the one thing that resonated with me and why I brought up, you know, Father Rick, you know, and Connie was the thing that Father Rick had said. You know, “Happiness lies in serving, not being served.” I love that. I love it. You know, it’s very simple and to the point. So, let’s talk a little bit more again, about Dog Tag. But before we do that, I just want to make sure, if you’re just joining us, this is the, this is the Road Home Program, the podcast. And I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director here at the Road Home. And we’re with Justin Miller. He also goes as Justin Time, right? 

Justin Miller: Justin Time. That’s right. 

Will Beiersdorf: Justin Time. He’s a Program Manager for Dog Tag Inc. here in Chicago, and Justin is talking about the work he’s doing for Dog Tag Inc. So, so again, you know, I, you know, you’ve, you’ve touched upon Dog Tag, and some of the things about this entrepreneurial spirit and stuff. 

Justin Miller: Sure.

Will Beiersdorf: How can folks, how do folks kind of get involved? And how do they, you know, you know, participate and become part of these cohorts? What’s the process? If you can highlight that a little bit? Because I’m sure people are going, “Okay, great. Sounds great. I can be a part of this. I can learn a lot about entrepreneurial things, I can make some good, I can make some good stuff and do some things, you know, with that bakery theme.” But more importantly, how do they get connected and get involved? And also, who qualifies, right, who qualifies for this?

Justin Miller: Yeah, we touched, I touched a little bit on eligibility, but I can get into the specifics, for sure. And I just want to preface this by saying that our cohorts, our D.C. cohort is right now capped at 16 individuals per cohort. We run those twice a year. Chicago is going to start out at 10 since we were piloting this first expansion here. And hopefully we graduate that 10 to 16. And I say all that to say 16 individuals for this cohort is a very small number. But much like your IOP program that you have at Road Home, you know, the focus is having a smaller population so we can have high contact, high-quality delivery of our program, right? So, all that said, it’s a very intense program and we want to make sure that the folks that are applying are a good fit for it. So, there’s definitely, the spirit of that program is part of our eligibility criteria. Are you coming here with a willingness to learn? Are you going to come here with a commitment to really get through five months of programming? And that includes, you know, earning a certificate of business acumen at Loyola through their seven or eight classes that we offer during this five-month period, on top of working through our Finding Your Voice theater class, and our capstone project that helps you take your idea of a small business and put it into a business plan. So it’s, it starts to become a reality. Exposing our fellows to rotations, which is that hands-on training and we do, in virtual settings, we do that as a case study and we still get to work with our staff in the bakery, you know. And then lastly, bringing in those learning lab partners, what we call our subject matter experts, you know, our storytellers that come in and share with us our success stories. So, there’s a lot going on in five months. It’s Monday through Thursday, all day programming Monday through Thursday for five months. So, our eligibility criteria, really beyond the exclusions of you know, service-connected post 9/11 veterans, military members in transition, Guard and reservists, current and former military spouses and caregivers. Beyond those criteria that we select into our pool, we’re also looking for somebody that really has the drive, you know, and the motivation to get through a five-month program. And that has the aspirations to take all these business fundamentals and do something with that. And we let our fellows define what success is for them. And I know we were talking earlier, you know, some of them go on to be entrepreneurs, right? And they start up their own business. Many of them do. I think 40% of our graduates go on and into startup. And then we have, you know, some that go back into the career, the careers, their career force workforce, and also some that go back in education. And some of the nice things about our program is we offer a stipend, $1,500 a month, while they’re programming with us to kind of offset some of those costs of really, you know, exposed, you know, having five months of a solid program. But we don’t accept GI Bill, in that specific case, because we want to be able to offer our stipend directly and not have to have that GI Bill burn in case those fellows want to go on and do a four-year degree and have a full GI Bill afterwards. Which is, I think accessible. 

Will Beiersdorf: No, I’m glad you made that comment. That’s good. Because, you know, people are always asking, like, how do I pay for this? Or how do we get got, you know, so it’s great to have kind of gone that route to preserve their GI Bill, right? And allow them that flexibility. You know, the one thing that really stands out about the program is, you know, you know, especially kind of resonates with me, because here at Road Home Program, you know, what we’re teaching veterans and their family members and others that come through our program, you know, in dealing with PTSD, you know, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other challenges you might face, is we’re giving them tools of resiliency, right? We’re teaching them how to manage this. Because again, you’re not really always 100% over this, but if we can help minimize this, and if we can help give you the toolsets and as we do at Road Home – that’s what I feel you do it Dog Tag.

Justin Miller: Yeah. 

Will Beiersdorf: I mean, I think that’s a big part of that. I just, I want to ask another question. Can you talk a little bit about the team in general? You know, um, you know, I, Megan, Jamie, others. I mean, can you highlight a little bit? And again, if people want to learn more about Dog Tag Inc., you can go to its Dog Tag Inc. All one, right? And you can learn more there. But can you, you know, you heard that it takes a village, it takes a team, you know, yada yada. But tell us a little more about leadership and some of the other folks, you know, that people should know about because I think that’s where the spirit of success, you know, and how this thing continues to grow, really comes from, right?

Justin Miller: Yeah, and so one of our core values a Dog Tag is entrepreneurship. And we live and breathe that because our organization is comprised of less than 20 people when you exclude the bakery staff and you look at the program development and fellowship teams, right? And then adding in the bakery staff, I think we’re maybe a little over 30, you know, with front-of-house workers and things like that. So, we’re still a very small organization. We have the ability to be nimble because of that, which is great, but we also have that entrepreneurship spirit. So, every individual that comes to work at Dog Tag is really coming because they want to be a part of this program to help develop our fellows, you know, and help them find purpose along the way. We’ve got some great members on our programs team. Myself and Ashley Hearn, who is the other program manager for D.C. along with Lisa Novick and Sarah Abu-Sheikha. Lisa is our Advisory Program Coordinator and manager of that program. So, that’s really where the alumni get to tap back into our programs as lifelong access as an alumni to go back and pick Lisa’s brain, who has been really successful in multiple ventures and multiple initiatives. So, she’s there for that. And then Sarah on our team, you know, she, she actually coordinates all of our alumni. So, I think we’re up over 150 alumni right now, including our current cohort. So, we’ve got a lot of folks on our alumni list that are always looking to find help over that plateau, wanting to socialize and, and connect and find camaraderie. So, just in our program team alone, we do a lot of, and just us four. Of course, we have a development team. You know, our Strategy Director in Jaime, you know, she’s fantastic, always keeping things in motion and moving us forward as an organization. And then, of course, Meghan Ogilvie at our helm as the CEO, you know, just always bringing to the table that entrepreneurial spirit, that mindset that, you know, how can we do things better? How can we, how can we do things not just to do things because we’ve been doing them, but how can we do things in a meaningful way? Finding purpose of our fellowship. So, I think if I defined all of our employees, it would really be they all, we all have that spirit of entrepreneurship, right? 

Will Beiersdorf: Oh, that’s great. 

Justin Miller: We give that to our fellows, 

Will Beiersdorf: No, no, great. And again, it resonates with me, because that’s what we built here at Road Home Program. Again, that passion. People want to be here. And again, you talk about the, you know, the values you share. I mean, again, you know, about our values at Road Home. About the ICARE values, right? 

Justin Miller: Yeah

Will Beiersdorf: Innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect, and, we say excellence, but I always like to say empowerment, right? But um, but those are, those are values. And we have people that believe in those values. And that’s the thing that I see with Dog Tag where you have people that believe in the mission and the vision and the values. So I think that’s fantastic. So hey, so I wanted to just stop for a moment. Again, if you’re just joining us, I’m Will Beiersdorf. I’m with Justin Miller, Program Manager of Dog Tag Inc. And this is the Road Home Program, the podcast. And again, Justin is sharing with us information and you know, things that are going on in Dog Tag Inc. And again, Dog Tag Inc., excuse me, is now in Chicago, right? I mean, so you’re, you’re kind of breaking ground here in Chicago. Justin Miller, and again, the right person. And I can say that because I know, because again, Justin used to work with us here at the Road Home Program. So I know he’s got great training. And he’s got great core values. But you know, what, Justin, tell folks a little bit again so, you know, if you want to learn more about Dog Tag Inc., Dog Tag Inc., all one, you can go and learn more there. But again, from a Road Home perspective, you know, we want to let you know and the audience know, that, you know, we have the folks that go through your program, we have their back, right? We’re here and we want to collaborate and work with you. So, talk to folks that might be coming to the program, you know, about some of the other services. Because again, some of the folks coming through might be struggling with some things. And so, how can we, again, how we work together and how Road Home plays a role in that for our two organizations, helping each other make sure that these folks coming through can be successful?

Justin Miller: Yeah, I think the key factor here is that everything that we do with our fellowship at Dog Tag is wrapped in a sense of wellness and positive mental health, right? We start our week, every morning with our fellows with a weekly wellness check-in. We allow them to go, right now since we’re virtually, we do breakout sessions in Zoom and let them just really have some fellowship and camaraderie with their peers and the fellowship and the cohort. We just kind of start there Monday. And then we do we do a wellness practice, whether that’s, you know, mindfulness or yoga or journaling or, you know, reading an article that has that wellness in its background. And then, of course, we end the day with that weekly debriefing, just kind of getting everything, you know, shook off for the week. You know, four days of programming non-stop is a lot, so we try to decompress and get that healthy mindset back and everything that we do has that wellness component and I think that’s important. Especially for folks, you know, that are going through the Warrior Care Network at Dub Dub P or your, you know, you know, program specifically at Road Home. Like, you’re going to have all of those building blocks of wellness incorporated into this fellowship program and that, at the end of the day, is the most important thing for us. Yes, we would love to see you go on to be a successful entrepreneur or go back into the workforce or go back into education but we want you to be in a good spot while you program with us. In healthy minds, healthy bodies, right? And, and also just find purpose and know that you’re going to be in a setting that that is comfortable for you to be able to explore those sometimes challenging questions. So, I think it would be a really great next step for folks that are going through the IOP or even going through, you know, therapy at Road Home and get that really good stable mental health underneath them. They can, they can almost graduate to a program like ours, which really starts giving them those business fundamentals on top of all that wellness. And so then they can continue on that success story and that journey. So, it’s a great next step, especially for those folks that really want to explore entrepreneurship and purpose and finding purpose and develop their career aspirations.

Will Beiersdorf: No, exactly. No, and that’s what again, that’s what I love about Dog Tag Inc. You know, you’re giving somebody purpose, right? Kind of a focus on where they want to go, who they want to be, what they want to do, and get over some of those barriers and humps. So, and you also hit on Wounded Warrior Project. Again, you know, I know Dub Dub P Wounded Warrior Project supports you all. They’re a supporter of ours, you know, in fact, they’re a big, big donor and funder of our Intensive Outpatient Program and outpatient services for the post 9/11 vets. So, we’re grateful. And again, we, they created what’s called, you mentioned it Justin, WCM, the Warrior Care Network, right? And we got four other sites, or there’s three other sites, amongst ourselves is Emory, down in Emory Medical Center, UCLA, and then Boston, which is the Mass General folks. So, the programs are there. And again, yeah, we’re gonna definitely highlight, you know, amongst our folks, you know, this opportunity when they get through our programming here. And again, I know, Justin, we’ll have you come and speak at, you know, some of our all-staff meetings in the future. But hey, as we wrap up here, I just want to ask, were there any other thoughts or particulars you want to share with folks about Dog Tag Inc. as we wrap up here?

Justin Miller: Let me get into, really briefly, kind of the process to apply and what our, you know, cycle looks like. So I mentioned, we do two cohorts a year, which means we’re really on a six-month cycle. The fellowship program is for five months and then we have a month off to kind of get, get our bearings and then start all over again, another five-month cohort with a month, one month off. So, we are right now, whenever this goes live, it may be after the fact but in 2021, we’re currently closing our window of applications on November 1st, but they will reopen in February of 2022 once our cohort starts going again. So every six months, we’re constantly cycling, in terms of recruiting and getting applications in a window and then going through that process. So, what does that look like for an applicant, right? So if they’re just interested in applications and the window’s not open yet, they can subscribe to our mailing list. That way, they can be notified when those application windows open. And then when that does open the very first step, and that is a three to five-minute eligibility form. We want to make that barrier, you know, as low as possible to get your contact information in, just some information about your background, your military service and your eligibility to make sure that you’re a good fit and we can we can move forward. So, once we have that three to five-minute form, we send in that full application, which takes a little bit more time. We have some questions in there that we want to assess, you know, where do you see yourself in five years? How can our program help you? You know, submit all your documentation, and that includes a DD214 if you’re a service member, right? And some of the documentation that we have for spouses and caregivers along with a letter of recommendation. And so sometimes that takes a little bit longer to put together. So we hopefully give them enough adequate time to get that done in that secondary step. Once all that it’s done, and everybody, those eligibility folks go through that process, and we deem them a good fit for our program, we send them through a three-step, stage interview process. The first one is with our alumni. They get to do a one on one interview with our alumni, pick their brains about the program, you know, from their perspective being a former fellow, what that is going to look like for me as a, you know, potential applicant of the program. Round two is with myself and the program team, right? So, Dog Tag staff jumps in there around to really, kind of, assess good fit and advisory. And then the last stage is with our CEO, Meghan, or a Board of Directors member, right? So, we’re just very thorough on our criteria of eligibility and selection to ensure that we have, you know, those 16 fellows picked out. That’s not to say that we can’t work with people on an individual basis. So, if they get through the selection process and we just don’t have enough slots for them, we can add them to a waitlist for the next go around. And we can also work with them if something comes up during the cohort. Everything is really on a case-by-case basis because we want to reduce as many barriers as possible. So, that’s what the application process looks like. You know, and when people are viewing this podcast, hopefully that application window is either coming up or already open and then they can start that process at

Will Beiersdorf: That’s great. That’s great. Well, well said and again, I’m grateful to you for all the work you’ve done. Being with us, for your service, first of all, for being part of Road Home then going at the USO. And I think you know, it’s funny how things kind of work out but you know, things happen for a reason, right? As you progress in your careers. I’ve learned that, too. You know, as I came here back in 2013 to help start the Road Home Program, I had no clue that I’d be starting a veteran In the family program at a, at a major academic medical center here at Rush University Medical Center. So, so again, hey, so Justin, I want to thank you again for your time. And again, if you want to learn more about Dog Tag Inc., what’s the website, their number? What’s the information real quick, Justin?

Justin Miller:

Will Beiersdorf: Gotcha. Perfect. And again, if you want to learn more about Road Home Program in the services we provide, you can go to that’s all one word Or you can call us at 312-942-8387 or 312 942 VETS. So again, I’m Will Beiersdorf and this is the Road Home Program, the podcast. Thank you, Justin Miller from, again, Program Manager at Dog Tag Inc. We really appreciate everything and I know we’ll be working really, as best we can to connect folks to you. And I know you’ll do the same with us when folks come across those issues that they might face. We all it’s definitely a team, right? It takes a team. 

Justin Miller: Yeah. 

Will Beiersdorf: So we’re all in this together. So, thank you again. Have a great day!

Justin Miller: Thank you for having me, Will. I just wanted to make one last call. I really appreciate the time coming here to the podcast, but also, you know, just with your mentorship, the last couple of years, being able to come and work for the Road Home Program, getting my feet wet in the veteran industry. It’s been great. All of that has led me to Dog Tag where I can really bring in all of those different passions that I have to find purpose in my peers. So, it’s just been a really great journey. I really appreciate all the influence that you’ve had in that journey and I look forward to our partnership. So, thank you again, I appreciate being here. And thanks for starting the month with the podcast. This was great.

Will Beiersdorf: You got it. Thanks, Justin. Again, this is the Road Home Program, the podcast, Justin Miller from Dog Tag Inc., everybody. Have a great day. And thank you again, Justin.

Justin Miller: Thanks, Will.


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.