SILVER SPRING, Maryland — Wayne Miller was 18 when he lost his leg and became temporarily paralyzed after being hit by a mortar round during the Vietnam War.
He told his friends he'd been in a motorcycle accident.
"It was a tough time," said Miller, who had to readjust his social life while being cared for by his parents.
Now 64 and walking with only a slight limp from his metal left leg, Miller is a social worker and the team leader of the Silver Spring Vet Center.
On Friday, Miller served as guide during a visit by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, who toured the therapeutic services center as part of their Joining Forces initiative, which highlights the need to provide resources and support for military members and their families.
"There are a lot of veterans who don't know that these resources exist, and that's the thing that we want to change," Obama said. "Every vet, every family member should know that there are places like this that feel like home, with people who are professional, that are trained, who know how to deal with any issue that you all encounter."
"The reason we're here today is to listen to you, listen to your experiences and learn from you," Biden said to the small group before closing the round table so clients could share their stories privately.
The center opened two years ago in a nondescript brick building just off I-495. It provides services ranging from bereavement support to sexual trauma therapy — help that Miller said is invaluable now and would have been just as helpful for him when he returned home after being injured.
"How does a family deal with a veteran?" said Miller, who served as a U.S Marine Corps corporal in south Vietnam. "How does a person with a disability deal with their family?"
Those are the types of questions the staff of five handles daily at the center.
Miller said the center was designed to encourage a sense of home and place of safety. A red, white and blue "welcome home" sign hangs in the reception area next to a coffee pot. Therapy rooms and offices are painted in subdued colors, and patriotic artwork hangs on many of the walls.
"It's more of a home than a hospital," he said. "The nice part about this place is that we were able to give it all the love."
Counselor Tamia Barnes' office got the approval of both Obama and Biden, who called her room "very warm and inviting."
Decorated with comfortable leather seats and children's artwork on the walls, Barnes said she wanted a "private practice feel" for clients who come to see her for marriage and family therapy sessions.
Barnes said the center also handles compulsive hoarding issues, substance abuse, anger management; whatever problem a military member or their family is struggling with, they work to create a solution.
"If there is a treatment needed, we are allowed to treat that need," Barnes told the women. "I'm thankful you are all here. I feel like we're one of the best-kept secrets."