From Air Force to Advocacy: Ben Miranda’s Story
Last Updated: 19 Jul 2022
Veterans Support & Mental Health Careecho $minutes. " Minute Read"?>
Why data-driven Veteran advocacy matters, and how it’s making a difference for the El Paso military community.
Endeavors recently announced its plans to build a state-of-the-art Veteran Wellness Center in El Paso, Texas!
The second of its kind in Texas, this center is a huge milestone for our service organization, which serves Veterans across the nation. What we’ve been able to do for Veterans and military families at the Veteran Wellness Center in San Antonio has been remarkable, and we can’t wait to bring our innovative model to the El Paso community.
To celebrate this moment and understand how we got here, we sat down with the Endeavors Director of Business Operations, Benjamin Miranda, M.Ed., PMC, RBLP-T, CMSgt (Ret-USAF). Ben is an El Paso native and a Veteran, and he has been with Endeavors since 2017 when the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in El Paso opened.
What was your experience serving in the military?
I served in the Air Force for twenty-four years, and it shaped who I am today. My experiences in the military taught me to be resilient and focused—for the first seven years, I was a canine handler searching for explosives and narcotics. Later, I was recruited by the Inter American Air Forces Academy where I served as a Security Forces instructor providing education and training to military personnel of the Americas. I also spent many years combating transnational organized crime in the Western Hemisphere.
And like many Veterans, I also deployed multiple times in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, NEW DAWN, and UNIFIED RESPONSE. I truly loved every minute of it. I represented my country in foreign lands, and I had phenomenal people I had to take care of to make sure that they got home safe after a long deployment.
How did you become an advocate for Veterans?
When I retired as a Command Chief Master Sergeant, my wife and I moved back to El Paso because that’s where our family and our community was. We’d left pieces of our hearts in the community years ago, and it was the only place we could imagine planting roots.
I came to Endeavors as the Outreach Director for the Steven A Cohen Military Family Clinic in El Paso, which provides in-person and virtual high-quality, accessible, and integrated mental health care to Veterans, regardless of role while in uniform, discharge status, or combat experience, active duty service members, and military families. The work and the mission spoke to my vision of happy, healthy, and stable lives for my fellow El Paso military community members, and I quickly entrenched myself in the mission of the Cohen Veterans Network and Endeavors.
Why is Veteran advocacy important?
Let me start by saying: When I started working at the Cohen Clinic, I knew I had found my new “why.” I’ve always been driven by service, whether it’s in fatigues or a suit and tie. I was blessed to find a new opportunity that fulfilled me.
When we opened up the El Paso Cohen Clinic in 2017, we served approximately 1,800 clients over two years. Fast forward, between 2020 and 2021, we served over 18,000 clients across all our Endeavors’ lines of services. I love seeing the large-scale of Endeavors’ services making a positive impact in El Paso, and I enjoy being a part of it.
But not everyone is that lucky during their transition. A lot of Veterans struggle to find their new “why,” whether they served four years or 30 years.
A few months ago, the Army released a report about Veteran suicide, and the report shows that the first three months after a Veteran separates from the military are the most dangerous and critical months for that Veteran. From an advocacy perspective, I want to ensure that our communities are poised to serve the needs of Veterans and their families, and what better way than working for an organization that already focuses on that? But at the same time, also advocating outside of the doors into the community, whether it’s at the local level, state level, or federal level, to be able to bring awareness of what Veterans deal with and what their needs are
My goal—and Endeavors’ goal—is to ensure that Veterans are ready to enter the workforce, go to college, or serve their community in different capacities. I advocate because I want Veterans and their families to find their new “why.”
What issues do Veterans and the military community face in El Paso?
For Veterans, the issue hasn’t been a lack of resources, but the challenge of identifying and accessing those resources. We had a wide array of fantastic organizations offering mental health services, educational services, disability and employment services…but they weren’t collaborating or communicating. As a community, we needed to come together and reach out to our Veterans instead of waiting for them to come ask for help.
How did you approach these issues?
To make the biggest impact possible and truly change the name of the game for Veterans and their families, we had to think and act outside the walls of our clinic. We had to advocate.
I started having conversations with local, county, state, and federal elected officials, embedding myself into committees, listening and learning about all the issues facing the El Paso Veteran community. I joined the El Paso County Veteran Advisory Board ,the El Paso Chamber Military and Veteran Advisory Committee, and the El Paso Continuum of Care Board. We established the El Paso County Veteran of the Year to recognize great things that El Paso Veterans were doing in the community. We brought key stakeholders to the table and developed a strategic plan to focus on serving Veterans with an array of services to include employment, health, quality of life, and education.
What is the Veteran Needs Assessment, and how did it come about?
We asked ourselves: How are we going to make the case for stronger resources? Storytelling is important, but we can’t advocate for dollars and resources without data and research.
We reached out to Combined Arms and asked if they could conduct a Veteran Needs Assessment, a one-of-a-kind assessment to
Was it effective?
The data it provided was invaluable. Suddenly, we knew exactly which services Veteran and family members struggled to access most: Claims assistance, employment assistance, mental health services assistance, legal assistance, locating veteran-centric social groups, peer support, and financial assistance
.. And we knew why they were struggling to access them: lack of availability, lack of accessibility, systematic barriers to receiving care (VA, insurance, long wait times, transportation, priority given, etc.), lack of information on available resources, lack of veteran-specific support, and financial barriers. You can find all the specific details in the Veteran Needs Assessment report distributed by our partners at Combined Arms.
This was exactly the information we needed to know in order to make tangible change in the way we provide services to the Veteran community. Because of this data, we were able to show the need for the Veteran Wellness Center that we’re bringing to El Paso. We’ll be able to create a one-of-a-kind space where Veterans and military families can easily access all the services they need.
About Benjamin Miranda
Serving as the Director of Business Operations, Benjamin Miranda, Jr. is responsible for ensuring the success of the development, implementation, operation, and expansion of Endeavors’ many lines of service. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Miranda joined the United States Air Force after graduating high school and rose to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant. He returned to El Paso after 24 years of military service and has served with Endeavors for 5 years. He holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Walden University.
Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit www.endeavors.org.