Fighting For Female Vets: Founder Models Strength, Courage
Jas Boothe says she owes her winning attitude of bravery and strength to the military. And her mission to help female veterans was born of her own experience.
A veteran with more than 17 years of service, Boothe is founder and president of A Final Salute, a nonprofit serving more than 5,000 homeless female veterans and their families in 30 states since 2010.
She has created several programs including H.O.M.E and S.A.F.E Programs, Next Uniform and Ms. Veteran America, addressing the specific needs of female veterans.
“I took an oath to never leave a fallen comrade. If you are doing something and you can’t get over water, then you build the bridge,” Boothe says.
Final Salute takes a three-pronged approach to addressing the issues associated with the homelessness of women veterans: awareness, assistance and aspiration. With more than 22 million U.S. veterans today, more than 2.2 million are women, with 1.8 million of those female veterans unscreened by the Veteran’s Administration and officially uncounted.
Featured in the 2017 documentary “Served Like a Girl,” the Chicago native describes her life of challenges, courage and success—each met with exceptional courage.
Moving to Mississippi as a high school sophomore in 1991 after her mother’s husband died, she earned a basketball scholarship to Mississippi Valley State University, where she graduated from in 1999, after studying journalism and communications.
Journalism internships under her belt, and with a dream of becoming a broadcast reporter, Boothe started her first on air reporting job in Las Vegas in 1999 but was quickly discouraged.
At six feet tall, she was told she was too tall to be an on-air female reporter. She enlisted in the army in 2000 and completed training in 2003, relocating back to Missouri, where she earned her masters in Human Resource Management and Management and Leadership from Webster University.
In 2005, she was offered a spot in the transportation unit in New Orleans in the Army Reserves. Shortly afterward she was notified she would soon be deploying to Iraq. She put all of her belongings in storage in New Orleans, sent her young son to live with family in Missouri and went to training.
“The whole time I was training I felt ill,” Boothe says. “But as a woman in leadership in the army, you are not allowed to have a bad day. I was told if I showed signs of weakness, the troops would not respect me.” She adds, “I was not a complaining, weak woman.”
That August Hurricane Katrina hit, wiped out everything she had in storage. Before deployment, she and her fellow soldiers were given two weeks off to get their effects in order. So she sought medical help for her symptoms and was diagnosed with Stage 2 head, neck and throat cancer.
Unable to deploy, Boothe endured two surgeries and multiple cycles of radiation.
“I was discharged from the military and became homeless. I went from being a soldier to being a homeless veteran and my son was 10,” Boothe says.
As she describes it, “I was feeling defeated and useless.” Returning to family in Missouri, she was told there were no programs for female veterans and was advised to go on food stamps. She did not receive follow up medical treatment.
“I threw myself a pity party that no one was RSVP-ing to,” Boothe says.
She came back to active duty with the Army National Guard in 2006, and later in the year, she received an opportunity to return to full-time duty in Washington, D.C., where she has stayed. Her oldest son is serving in the United States Air Force, and her eight-year-old son lives with her and her husband, a Marine Combat Veteran.
On a day off work she was watching the “Oprah” show with the topic of homeless female veterans.
“I put all that stuff that happened to me behind me,” Boothe says. “I had thought I was a fluke of the system. I thought maybe there are more programs for women veterans now, and I looked online for housing programs for homeless women veterans and there was nothing. That was my aha moment. I was going to create one.”
Boothe launched A Final Salute in 2010, building it by herself in her spare time, with a $15,000 limit on her personal credit card. The reason she began, she says, is because it’s the right thing to do.
“We live in a society where issues of race and gender play into every part of American society. In compassion, there can never be any competition,” Boothe says.
More than two million women have served their country since the Revolutionary War, and it is time to acknowledge their unique needs, says Boothe. In her white paper on homeless veterans, Boothe writes of the vastly under-reported numbers of homeless vets, estimated to be 55,000, but much more likely to be hundreds of thousands.
“Of the total reported unemployed veterans, 23,000 of them were women. The VA states only 4,338 women veterans were homeless in 2015. That leaves over 18,600 women veterans (with and without children) uncounted and with no income. Many of these women are in fact homeless; however, they don’t meet the current Housing and Urban Development definition for the PIT Count.”
Recognized by scores of organizations with awards for her innovative service, programs and ideas with A Final Salute, Boothe has received the Oprah Winfrey and Toyota Standing Ovation; U.S. Army Chief of Staff Outstanding Civilian Service Award; People Magazine Hero Among Us; CNN Hero; America Red Cross Tiffany Circle Distinguished Woman Warrior Award; Redbook Magazine – We Learn From Her; Department of Defense Spirit of Hope Award and so many more.
On the front to assist her female veteran comrades, Boothe says she has advice for anyone who strives to launch a non-profit with a mission close to her heart.
“Be prepared to handle praise and pushback,” Boothe saus. “Always have your facts together. People have questions either because they are curious or they are trying to challenge you.”
She adds, “As a woman, people are going to doubt you. Be ready for it. But if you have knowledge and passion and are ready to do the work, go for it.”
Looking to the future for A Final Salute, Boothe says she wants her mission to be obsolete because there are no homeless female veterans.
“I hope it goes out of business,” Boothe says. “We not only want to find a solution, and building homes is a solution, but what we need is prevention.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com