Cycling has become both a passion and a form of outreach for Sisters veteran Brett Miller. photo provided
Cycling has become both a passion and a form of outreach for Sisters veteran Brett Miller. photo provided

Brett Miller is a Wounded Warrior. Severely injured in an IED attack in Iraq, his road to healing has been long and winding. He was helped along the way by the Wounded Warrior Project, and now he's paying that help forward.

And he has found that helping others along the same road is the most healing act of all.

Miller, serving with G Troop, 82nd Cavalry, Oregon National Guard, was wounded on August 11, 2005, on a road between Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq. An improvised explosive device - a surface-laid 155 mm round - exploded six feet off the door of his gun truck. The blast blew out his eardrums and left him with serious head trauma. The retina in his right eye detached, and the head injury caused nerve damage to his left leg.

The incident left him with a 100-percent disabled rating; deaf in his right ear, with a permanently disabled left leg and serious short-term memory loss. Perhaps most dangerous to his ongoing health was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"That was actually a big part of my rating," Miller told The Nugget.

He was required to undergo a six-month inpatient program with "very intense psychological group sessions."

"I can honestly say that if I hadn't been through that, I'd be dead or in prison," he said.

The Sisters man was in the hospital for three years, and underwent two years of outpatient treatment. Miller has come a long way from those dark days.

"The Wounded Warrior Project were the ones who gave me the mental tools, the physical tools to get out," he noted.

Now, he's helping other wounded veterans who may be having a tough time transitioning to civilian life.

"I basically volunteer my time to them," he said. "I'm on what they call the National Campaign Team (NCT). My face and story is the brand of the Wounded Warrior Project."

The Wounded Warrior Project (www.wwphighcap.org) mission is to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.

Miller's efforts have taken him around the country for speaking engagements, including corporate events. Perhaps the most memorable event was Miller's participation on the WWP Race Across America team. The grueling race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, draws teams from all over the world.

"We finished in seven days, two hours," Miller said. "We beat six pro cycling teams, including Brazil - but they were fun to hang out with."

Cycling has become a passion for Miller. It's the only intense physical activity his body can handle. His injured leg makes it impossible to run (walking is difficult) - but he can clip in and let the pedal carry his leg through part of the cycle. As befits his intense personality, he has flung himself into his sport, with a lot of local support from Blazin Saddles cycling shop.

"They helped me out with a lot of gear," he said. "They were huge in it."

He plans to keep his cycling fitness up so that he can take on some 200-mile unsupported races.

"I seem to have a knack for settling in on a pace and just going," he said. "That's just one of the things I've been able to blow the doors off of - how far I am able to go."

An avid outdoorsman, Miller also enjoys his time in the woods. But it always comes back to his volunteer work.

That will include testifying on Capitol Hill in the late summer or early fall regarding veterans' issues, including improving screening and benefits. The organization he has devoted himself to now carries a lot of influence.

"Wounded Warrior Project has become such a large, powerful organization that it actually changes veterans' doctrine," Miller said.

But the critical work happens with individuals - and the work is endless and literally life-and-death.

"Veterans' suicides now are ridiculous," Miller said.

NPR recently reported that, "The number of suicide deaths in the U.S. military surged to a record 349 last year - more than the 295 Americans who died fighting in Afghanistan in 2012. "

Suicide rates for veterans who have left the service are also high. A Department of Veterans Affairs study put the rate at 22 per day in 2010. (That includes veterans of all conflicts; their study notes that the majority are over 50 years of age.)

Reaching veterans who are in the throes of life-threatening PTSD isn't straightforward or easy. They often feel alienated from society, which adds to the stress and inhibits their ability to reach out. Other veterans can make a key difference.

"Veterans will listen to veterans," Miller said.

Miller has an acute understanding of the troubles and traumas that can continue for years - indeed, a lifetime. He still has his own struggles.

"My memory is still shot. The most physical activity I can do is cycling... It's so hard to concentrate, to focus, to put things in order."

Yet he has found a way to lead a good life.

"I've been blessed to meet so many people," he said. "To see exactly how much this country appreciates veterans service - it's refreshing because a lot of people don't see it as much."

And he knows he's making a difference, both for others and in his own ongoing journey.

With a grin he acknowledges it: "Nobody learns better than when you're teaching."