Army veteran helps other vets avoid becoming homeless
Al Miller has spent a lifetime being invisible, helping veterans like himself get out from the shadows.
He volunteers with Rolling Thunder Illinois Chapter One, operating out of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Warrenville, which helps veterans in DuPage, Kane and Will counties with housing assistance and support.
The group's primary mission is promoting awareness of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. It also works with veterans assistance commissions to help veterans in need of shelter.
"We've put over $600,000 back in the community either through fundraisers, grants, donations over 21 years," said Miller, 65, of Northlake, a Vietnam-era Army veteran.
Miller helped start the chapter's veterans assistance program nearly five years ago to keep veterans from becoming homeless.
"Last year, we helped 70 veterans," Miller said. "They fall behind because they lost their job, health reasons, a family member got sick, and they are facing eviction. We step in and help them out with rent, sometimes rent and utilities, sometimes just utilities. I think that is one of our biggest achievements aside from raising awareness about POWs/MIAs."
Over the last five years, the group has helped more than 200 veterans with rental and mortgage assistance and utilities. It recently received a $40,000 grant from the state, and its donors include Inland Bank and other veterans organizations.
The group organizes two yearly fundraisers -- a gun bash, raffling everything from rifles to handguns to the public for the last 10 years, and its Thunder Run, a community motorcycle ride for 18 years.
"Over the years, we've had as many as 1,000 bikes come to this ride event," Miller said.
Much of the fundraising proceeds and all donations and grants go entirely toward helping veterans.
The group has helped erect POW/MIA monuments in Carol Stream, Darien, Genoa and Sandwich.
On Monday, it will dedicate a "missing man" chair honoring POWs and MIAs at the Fox River Harley-Davidson in St. Charles. Similar chairs were installed at Chicago's Soldier Field and a baseball park in Joliet.
"This represents all the veterans that are missing, unaccounted for," Miller said.
An estimated 80,000 to 90,000 soldiers are yet unaccounted for from all the wars since World War I, he added.
The chapter's work is Miller's passion. He works more than 60 hours a week as an auto mechanic and spends the rest of his time volunteering.
"It's almost like a part-time job," Miller said. "We've got a chapter full of veterans that help out. All of us are passionate about helping out. It's something that veterans do for each other."