I’d like to introduce you to Teresa Hillis, and through her, 13,000 homeless female veterans in the United States.
Yes, 13,000. Plus…their children.
“My friend Amanda Thompson, who is serving with the 180th fighter wing of the Air National Guard, decided to run for Ms. Veteran America and sent me an email to go ‘like’ her Facebook page. I was so excited for her endeavors. I asked her a bunch of questions about the pageant. As she was explaining how she heard about it, she simply stopped talking and said, ‘Go to the auditions with me. You should do this too! Let’s do it together!’ Mind you, this conversation took place on Wednesday, June 6th and the audition was taking place in Washington D.C. on June 9th. After the initial, ‘I cant’s’, and ‘this isn’t my thing’, ‘I’m not pretty enough,’ and finally ‘I’m not sure what my husband will think of this’, I looked into it. That is where I discovered Final Salute, Inc. The more I researched, the more I wanted this.”
Final Salute is a not-for-profit organization which helps homeless female American veterans and their children by providing housing and housing subsidy assistance, and targeted support mentorship, through the H.O.M.E. (Housing Outreach Mentorship Encouragement) and S.A.F.E. (Savings Assessment and Financial Education) programs in the Washington D.C. metro-area.
According to Final Salute, there are a number of reasons why a female veteran might become homeless. Among them:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Ineligibility for or lack of availability of veteran’s benefits
- Military sexual trauma
- Domestic abuse
- Lack of family support
“Women can be deployed with the guard unit, for example, and make decent money, but when they come home, they can’t find enough work to make a living. Maybe she was sexually assaulted during service and has trouble trusting men and male authority, and she’s too embarrassed to ask for help. These are normal women who had normal jobs serving our country. They just fell upon unfortunate circumstances. Almost 60% of the homeless female veterans are single mothers.”
According to a study conducted in 2009 on Veteran Homelessness by HUD and the VA, female veterans are more likely to be homeless than their male counterparts, and female veterans are also 4 times more likely to be homeless when compared to female non-veterans in the U.S. and female non-veterans in the poverty population.
The whole mission of Final Salute is to provide homeless female veterans with safe and affordable housing. They strive to create awareness about homelessness among female veterans; provide housing and supportive assistance; and instill in homeless female veterans that their situation is temporary and their goals are still achievable.
This is the inaugural Ms. Veteran America pageant. Fifty contestants from all branches of service will compete in Washington D.C. on October 7th for the title, but this isn’t your regular pageant. The contestants are all either honorably discharged or active duty. It’s not about how you look in a swimsuit. It’s about being a veteran and looking at “the woman beyond the uniform”, and in addition to providing 100 hours of community service, the winner of the pageant will be the spokeswoman for Final Salute, Inc., and the organization’s efforts to assist homeless American female veterans.
Teresa is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. She followed in the footsteps of her father, joining the Corps on Delayed Entry when she was 17.
“I’m a daddy’s girl, of sorts, and decided I was going to make my dad proud and walk in his shoes. My parents were apprehensive about me only choosing the Corps and encouraged me to talk to the other recruiters as well. Poor guys never stood a chance. If I was going to do this…I was going to be ‘the best!’”
She served at Norfolk, VA; Aberdeen, MD; and Camp Pendleton, CA.
“I still love the military and everything about it: God, Country and Corps. When this pageant came about and I saw exactly what the cause was, I knew this was my second wind. Between my huge heart and my love for the military, this was a no-brainer. These women need us!”
The contestants for Ms. Veteran America will be judged on interview, military history, talent, and evening gown. Judges will be looking for grace, poise, confidence, and personality.
“I submitted a piece of glass that I engraved with a drill. I also submitted a video of me shooting my compound bow. I enjoy hunting and anything earthly, including canning and gardening. I have a passion for finding the ‘God Moments’ and they always seem to be related to nature. If it’s hands on, I just do it. And if I don’t know how, I figure it out. I love helping out at my church. Whether it’s with the small kids or the teenagers or being part of the women’s ministry board I am happy to serve. I teach art classes through our local arts council from time to time.”
Teresa also has her own “good news only” newspaper called The Good Stuff.
She says that although she would welcome the chance to serve as Ms. Veteran America, the pageant is really about Final Salute and the thousands of homeless female veterans and their families.
“I know there are many more female veterans out there than what we see. We don’t wear the ‘high and tight’ haircut. We don’t have the appropriate military insignia tattooed on our biceps. However, those of us who have or who are currently serving, love our country. We didn’t sign up for just something to do. The women who are struggling deserve the recognition. Honestly, they deserve a crown or a sash. Or maybe just a hug and some support. After all, they are one of many reasons why we can still call it ‘The Land of the Free.’”
Learn more about Ms. Veteran American and Final Salute Inc. (and donate to the organization) by clicking on the links below:
You can also find Ms. Veteran America and Final Salute on Facebook, as well as pages for Teresa and Amanda (click on the links in the article).
- Homeless Vets.. Reality Check (welcomehomecommunitiesblog.wordpress.com)
- Women Veterans Speak Out: Each one, reach one: Helping homeless veterans (youngwomenmisbehavin.com)
- “Shelters help growing number of homeless female vet” (pamhi.wordpress.com)
- Number of Homeless Female Veterans on the Rise; Final Salute Inc. Answers the Call (prweb.com)
- New shelters helps rising number of homeless female veterans (mysanantonio.com)