Voices of Honor - Serving America's Heroes
Twenty-two of my family members, spanning three generations, have served in a branch of the United States military. Appreciation and respect for veterans was never something I was taught; it was always in my heart because of the love I have for my family and America. Fast forwarding to my undergraduate studies as a pre-med and psychology major, I shadowed and worked alongside doctors treating wounded military members as part of a military therapy program. I was inspired by their courage, bravery, and resilience, and it allowed me to see the many physical and psychological issues that so many of our military develop after leaving active duty and the effects their service can have on them and their families. This led me to create Voices of Honor – Serving America’s Heroes, to pursue a PsyD, and to work with a team of medical professionals devoted to supporting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries to prevent their potential suicide.
Forty percent of veterans admit that it is a challenging adjustment returning to civilian life. Due to severely high rates of homelessness, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and a military culture that can be resistant to seeking help, over 60,000 veterans have committed suicide within the last ten years alone; that is seventeen veterans per day which is double the rate of the general population. Furthermore, veterans are far more likely than the civilian population to develop specific mental health problems, a statistic that has risen over sixty-five percent in the last twenty years. It is important that we as a nation implement and sustain meaningful measures to not only reduce the risk of suicide and promote a life worth living for all veterans, but also to ensure that their mental health is one of our top priorities.
Voices of Honor – Serving America’s Heroes is important and timely because it focuses on easing the adjustment of reintegration for veterans returning to civilian life. I have established partnerships with numerous organizations where we identify and connect resources for veterans to ensure adequate employment, housing, and mental healthcare.
Employment: Save-A-Suit - work as a community outreach liaison to provide veterans with professional work attire for job interviews; Fallen Heroes - I am on an interview panel who selects and awards veterans who are competing for scholarship money so they can attend college or technical school; Vets Rock – connect veterans with organizations and companies with specific post-active duty employment opportunities.
Housing: Homes for the Brave - raise money for programs that allow veterans to receive life coaching, resume building, and help align their military skills with civilian trade; Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes - I empower residents to obtain independence, financial stability, and a place to call home; House of Heroes - assist veterans and their spouses who are disabled, living on a fixed income, or facing other physical/financial challenges by repairing and making improvements to the homes of veterans and their spouses at no cost.
Mental Healthcare: Sacred Heart University - my cohort and I have developed a suicide prevention program to recognize, reduce, or eliminate the risk factors of active military who are transitioning into civilian life. In addition, I lobby at the state level for legislative backing to support proper funding of multiple veteran support programs, which are crucial because they provide veterans with opportunities and much-needed resources for successful reintegration. Below, I drafted Red, White, Blue, and You!, a signature-based pledge of support to strengthen legislation aiming to reduce risk factors of veteran suicide, increase budgets for implementation of veteran support programs and expansions of community support. Advocating at the federal, state, and local levels influence how federal dollars should and can be applied to strengthen the healthcare and assistance programs provided to veterans.
As Miss America I will be an outreach liaison connecting veterans with the necessary resources for a productive civil life and will continue my work on a national scale to create successful reintegration processes for all veterans. Through the Miss America Program, I can reach a wider audience by advocating, lobbying, and forming partnerships to bring Americans together to help our heroes. Our Voices of Honor benefits the quality of life of those who fight to maintain our freedom and grows our patriotic spirit which is the backbone of what many believe is the greatest country in the world - America.