LEESBURG, Va. (WOMENSENEWS)–The third annual Ms.Veteran America contest held here in October, included 23 contestants, representing all branches of the military, and wound up crowning Amanda Wirtz, 33, a navy veteran who served for six years in both Iraq and Yugoslavia as a cryptologist.
"Winning the title of Ms. Veteran America is an absolute honor and more importantly–a responsibility–to serve in an even greater capacity as a representative of women in the military and an advocate for change for homeless female veterans," Wirtz said in an email interview with Women’s eNews.
The contest raised approximately $70,000 for Final Salute, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va., that offers shelter to women vets and their children.
Jaspen (Jas) Boothe, an Army captain and founder of Final Salute, lost her home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and a month later she was diagnosed with adenoid cancer. She told Women’s eNews that her personal experience drove her to found the organization. "I got past the hurricane, I got past the cancer but what I did not get past is–when I got done with my treatment and I had to leave the military–that my country had forgotten about the women who served and sacrificed." She said during that tough period she and her child had to rely on food stamps and welfare.
Many of the housing opportunities offered to female veterans are insufficient because they do not allow for children or restrict the ages of children who can be included in the household, found a 2011 Government Accountability Report. In a small number of cases, some housing providers reported incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault against female residents.
Like Boothe, 10,763 female veterans were homeless over the course of 2012–a slight decrease from the 11,222 homeless women veterans in 2009–according to a 2012 annual homeless report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In 2009, the Obama administration made a commitment to ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. In an effort to meet the goal set by the president, the Department of Veterans Affairs has considerably increased financial funds to programs supporting homeless veterans.
"These women veterans are heroes, they should definitely not be homeless," LaShonda Unseld, a finalist, told Women’s eNews during the contest.
Léa Bouchoucha is an editorial intern for Women’s eNews and an M.A. candidate in journalism at New York University.