This is why 'Ms. Veteran America' is so much more than a pageant

Between 2006 and 2010, some 30,000 single mothers had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror. Meanwhile, the number of homeless female veterans doubled in the same time period.

There are now an estimated 55,000 homeless women veterans in America, and they’re the fastest growing homeless population in America.

When Lysa Heslov first heard about how easily female veterans can fall into poverty and homelessness she had no idea just how widespread the problem was. She was at lunch with a friend who told her about the Ms. Veteran America Pageant, which provides housing for female veterans and their children – and why it’s so important.

Ms. Veteran America

From Left to Right: Andrea Waterbury, Kerry Turner, and Rachel Engler at the 2015 Ms. Veteran America Competition in Las Vegas. (Photo by Brian Engler)

“I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed as an American, I was embarrassed as a woman,” Heslov told We Are The Mighty. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I couldn’t believe that women were coming back and being treated this way. I’ve gone up to many service men in my life, and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I hadn’t gone up to one woman my entire life.”

There are many factors that go into a veteran falling into homelessness; a lack of affordable housing, sudden or insufficient income, PTSD, substance abuse, lack of familial and social support networks — the list goes on and on. Suffice to say, it could happen to anyone.

Heslov is a director, producer, philanthropist who founded a non-profit for disadvantaged youth with her husband. She helped a New Orleans family recover from Hurricane Katrina. She decided she would put her skills to work to raise awareness for female veterans at risk of homelessness. In 2015, she filmed the new documentary film “Served Like a Girl.”

Served Like a Girl” follows five female veterans from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines from around the U.S. as they prepare to compete in the Ms. Veteran America competition.

The women face more than a transition from military to civilian life. As they ready themselves to earn the crown, they describe how they deal with divorce, PTSD, serious illnesses, and sexual trauma they experienced while in the military.

Heslov immediate set out to learn everything she could about the issue. She watched CNN’s “Heroes” documentary on Jas Boothe, the founder of Final Salute, Inc. — the main beneficiary of Ms. Veteran America. Booth is a 16-year Army veteran of both OIF and OEF, a cancer survivor, and author who was once fell into homelessness herself after a series of tragic events.

Her brush with the void inspired her to ensure every female veteran would never be left without somewhere to turn.

“We offer wrap-around services,” Boothe told CNN. “Anything they could possibly need to help get themselves back in a state of independence. We give all the tools that you need, but your success in this program is up to you.”

Final Salute, Inc. also offers interest-free loans, child care, job placement, and more.

“There’s nothing wrong with serving like a girl,” Boothe said, introducing the film at the 2016 Fort Meyer VETRACON event. “Men killed Bin Laden. A woman found him.”

“Directing this was terrifying and exciting and became so much more than I ever thought it could be,” Heslov says. “The women featured in it became more than just subjects in my documentary, they have become my family. I can say I’ve never cried so many tears and I’ve never laughed as hard. My life will never be the same and my hope is, through sharing this film, theirs won’t have to be either.”

“Served Like a Girl” is a descriptive, informative film that thoroughly covers the possible pitfalls and unique challenges for women vets who transition from the military. The women featured in the film are real women veterans, facing real struggles that could undo not only their hopes of winning the competition, but affect the rest of their lives.

The film also features a new song “Dancing Through the Wreckage,” composed by Linda Perry, Grammy-nominated lead of the band 4 Non Blondes, and sung by the legendary Pat Benatar.

Served Like a Girl” is in theaters in Los Angeles and New York. It will open in other areas soon.

To learn more about the Ms. Veteran America Competition or donate to fight female veteran homelessness, visit their website.

TOP ARTICLES
The 13 funniest memes for the week of Sept. 22

Kim Jong Un has an H-Bomb. These good ol' fashioned military memes will make your last few moments less excruciating. Memes are proven to cool hydrogen burns.

How Taco Bell influenced a rapper to become a Marine

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about how he went from wrapping tacos to rapping music lyrics.

These are the best military photos for the week of September 23

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week.

The US just sent 2,200 of these Fort Bragg paratroopers to Afghanistan

Approximately 2,200 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers began quietly deploying this month, part of a long-discussed troop surge to Afghanistan.

The Marines just took a look at this Civil War battlefield to learn military lessons for the future

The battle, which involved 18,456 mounted troops and was the largest cavalry clash in North America, also remains largely unknown by today's students of military history.

The Air Force is finally getting with the program and planning for urban fights

Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas, predicting that much of the world will live in megacities.

How we found out it's not so easy to fly a Reaper drone

Let's just say computer flight simulator games don't provide enough experience to make a good landing.

Here's what the Marines of 'Full Metal Jacket' are doing today

The Marines killed the enemy together, laughed together, and shared a Da Nang hooker together. But what happened to them after the war? You're about to find out.

Army ditches search for 7.62 battle rifle — for now

Less than two months after the Army issued a request from industry to provide up to 50,000 7.62 battle rifles, sources say the service has pulled the plug on the program.

Navy chief says crew fatigue may have contributed to recent spate of ship collisions

US Navy is blaming high pace of operations, budget uncertainty, and naval leaders who put their mission over safety after multiple deadly incidents at sea.

THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY

We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles

COMPLETE SURVEY TO WIN