By: Chuck N Baker
(Las Vegas) — Several years ago a female entrepreneur I met had started a fashion-related designer company called Half the Sky. She reasoned women made up half of the world’s population, so in effect they were figuratively responsible for holding up one-half of the clouds and atmosphere above us. She didn’t delve into the millions of associations the Earth’s diverse women represented. But if she had, one of the top groups would surely have been America’s military veterans. To that end, yet another woman with military service decided to do something to specifically promote fellow female veterans. Enter Jaspen Boothe, who founded Ms. Veteran America, an organization dedicated to helping women veterans be proud of themselves and acknowledge their beauty. Additionally, Ms. Veteran also raises funds for homeless female veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, homeless female veterans are the fastest growing segment of those without stable housing.
The Ms. Veteran contest is open to any and all women who served in the U.S. military. The pageant recognizes physical beauty, but it is completely dedicated to fully recognizing the inner beauty and the intestinal fortitude that women veterans possess.
In 2015, the fourth annual Ms. Veteran America competition took place over two days in and around Las Vegas and Henderson. Contestants stayed at the Sunset Station hotel-casino. Like other Nevada hotels, the ceiling at the time was painted sky blue, and indeed the contestants were reaching for the sky. They came from many backgrounds including several who had been homeless themselves at one time. The women had profound comments about themselves, and about attitudes of women veterans others often have. A few examples:
“When a male veteran is homeless, his country failed him. When a female veteran is homeless, she failed her country.”
“It’s not about how skinny you are. It’s about who you are.”
“We also served. We’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”
“I was medically discharged into the street. In the blink of an eye I was homeless.”
“For someone to say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ that makes you a winner.”
Denyse Gordon is the pageant director and a veteran herself. In a rehearsal that took place at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the Performing Arts Center where the competition was held, she did everything to help contestants. She drilled them in military history to prepare them for their interviews. She discussed how they might dress and reviewed their performances in the upcoming talent portion of the event. The money raised from the pageant goes to support Final Salute, a nonprofit created to benefit the estimated 55,000 homeless female veterans in the U.S. The winner also receives $15,000 for education, student loans, home purchase or repairs, or starting a business. As with traditional beauty pageants, the winner becomes the official face of the contest and of Final Salute, attending public speaking events, parades, talk shows and next year’s pageant.
According to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), homelessness among women veterans is expected to rise as increasing numbers of women in the military reintegrate into their communities. Women currently make up 8% of the total veteran population and 14.6% of the active duty military, increasing to an estimated 16% by 2035. The VA understands that some women veterans face challenges when returning to civilian life, including raising children on their own, or dealing with the aftereffects of military sexual trauma. Without intervention, these and other issues can put those women at greater risk of homelessness. The department also strives to address the individualized needs of women throughout its specialized programs for the homeless.
VA medical centers and regional benefits offices employ dedicated advocates to ensure women get the health care and benefits they’ve earned through service. It offers several specific programs to help, including the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF). It awards grants to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide supportive services to very low income veterans and their families residing in or transitioning to permanent housing.
Another helpful project is the Women Veterans Health Care Program. Since 1988, that program has provided focused care for women veterans in a safe environment that aims to raise the standard of women’s health care. By focusing on primary care, reproductive health, and other health issues unique to women, The VA seeks to provide the care that helps keep women veterans healthy and, in a position, to live fruitful lives. They need not worry about their specific health issues not being accommodated by the VA.
Another program is the Center for Women Veterans that monitors and coordinates VA benefits, programs and services for women. The center also advocates for them and raises awareness about the responsibility to treat women with dignity and respect. Women can also call the Women Veterans hotline at (855) 829-6636 for answers to questions about VA services and resources.
This year the Ms. Veteran America pageant will be held virtually due to the pandemic. But as in the past, the competition will highlight more than the strength, courage, and sacrifice of our nation’s military women. It will also remind us that these women are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. Ms. Veteran America is a role model, teaching and empowering women and girls to support, inspire and uplift one another.
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