The annual Ms. Veteran America competition, aimed at showcasing the woman beyond the uniform, is helping some of the more than 204,000 women currently serving in the U.S. military find their identities, CBS News reports, citing some participants.
Women make up nearly 16 percent of the estimated 1.3 million service members on active duty in the U.S. military.
CBS News points out that although they are prone to the scars of war like their male counterparts, women often do not get the same treatment or access to services that men do when they retire from the military.
“Through poise, grace and service, the competition for Ms. Veteran America unites them all for a common mission,” notes CBS News correspondent Dana Jacobson.
Molly Mae Potter, an Afghanistan veteran who served six-and-a-half years in the U.S. Air Force, has been crowned as this year’s Ms. Veteran America.
Despite therapy and the support of friends, family, and her dog, Potter has struggled with a debilitating depression while transitioning into civilian life.
“When I was really struggling with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and I just got out of the military, I felt a bit worthless,” Potter told CBS News. “My identity again was the military. ‘What am I going to do with my life now?’ ‘No one wants to hire me. …’ I felt like damaged goods.”
Potter pointed out that through the competition, she ultimately learned, “I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought and the military doesn’t define me.”
The annual competition is organized by Major Jas Boothe.
“When people look at my uniform, they see Major Boothe; they don’t see me as a wife, they don’t see me as a mother,” Boothe told CBS News. “We have to somehow erase a little bit of our identities as women in order to blend in and serve in the military.”
Maj. Boothe indicated that Ms. Veteran America has helped her find her identity again.
Through its official website, Ms. Veteran America explains that its annual competition “highlights more than the strength, courage, and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women are Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives.”
“Ms. Veteran America is also a role model, teaching and empowering young women and girls to support, inspire and lift-up one another,” it adds.
Although it may appear like a pageant on the surface, those familiar with the competition argue it is not.
“Make no mistake — Ms. Veteran is no pageant. This competition is also about the women outside the spotlight,” writes Jacobson from CBS News. “Contestants spend several months raising money and awareness for Final Salute, a charity which supports homeless female veterans — the fastest growing homeless population in the U.S.”
The winner is reportedly expected to spend the next year advocating for the cause.
“You get to be the voice and the face of advocating on behalf of women veterans that have really hit their rock bottom,” said Potter, this year’s crowned contestant.