Evening Gowns & Combat Boots: Local Vet Is Ms. Veteran America Semi-Finalist - TribPapers

Evening Gowns & Combat Boots: Local Vet Is Ms. Veteran America Semi-Finalist

Sarah Scully joined the Army in 2003, after 9/11, and served around the world. Photo submitted.

Asheville – Sarah Scully of Marshall, NC, is a semifinalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition. It’s definitely not a Miss America pageant—it’s a Ms. Veteran America competition. Donning combat boots instead of heels and powering through a push-up contest instead of a swimsuit contest, these women combine their voices for one strong national message. Homeless female veterans.

The largest growing population of homeless people is female veterans—55,000 nationwide—and most are single mothers with young children. So every year since 2012, hundreds of female veterans throughout America enter Ms. Veteran America to raise awareness, advocacy, and aspiration for homeless female veterans. Scully is one of those women.

After graduating from Madison High School and UNC-Asheville, Scully joined the Army because of 9/11 and served from ’03 to ’08 with stints in Korea, Japan, Thailand, Kuwait, and a hop to Iraq. But like many veterans, Scully came home with challenges.

Help in the Form of a Homeless Vet

While sitting in a Baltimore, MD, Veterans Affairs emergency waiting room, waiting on her father, who served in the Marines, Scully met a homeless female veteran. That encounter changed Scully’s life and inspired her to finally go to the VA for help. She has spent the last eight years on a journey of healing at the Asheville VA for PTSD from military sexual trauma. This same trauma afflicts many homeless female veterans.

Ms. Veteran America at 1st semifinals Sarah Scully and another contestant. Photo submitted.
Ms. Veteran America at 1st semifinals Sarah Scully and another contestant. Photo submitted.

“I think of her all the time,” said Scully. “Up until she saw me, I’d been yelled at for parking in the veteran parking space at Lowe’s, found hate mail left on my vehicle for having a woman veteran license plate, and been repeatedly asked where my husband was when I tried to use my military discount. I didn’t want to identify as a veteran—I’ve been afraid to identify as a veteran.


Mental health struggles from time in uniform—like PTSD from Military Sexual Trauma (MST)—are a contributing factor to homelessness, along with disabilities, legal troubles, divorce, domestic violence, and a lack of service connection for VA disability payments or treatment. All of these factors lead to female veterans being four times more likely to be homeless than male veterans. Unbelievably, although sexual harassment has not been allowed in the civilian workplace for years, sexual harassment will not be considered a crime in the military until January 2025.

Scully had never heard of MST the entire time she served. It was only when she joined the VA that she learned about it. “I can’t think of any female I served with who did not live under a constant threat of sexual harassment and assault,” Scully said. “We all thought it would be professional when we joined.”

A VA therapist explained the difference between combat PTSD and military sexual trauma PTSD. Combat is more straightforward—fire at the enemy. MST is betrayal-based—the enemy is all around you, wearing the same uniform.

How Ms. Veteran America Impacted Scully

Scully shared, “It’s been really scary to be out of my comfort zone, but it’s also been really freeing. I spent so long trying to be invisible, and being in Ms. Veteran America is ripping off that band-aid in one fell swoop and saying ‘Hey, here I am. I don’t want to be scared anymore.’ Being in that room full of strong female veterans felt amazing. It felt like a victory for everyone who has helped me along the way.”

Final Salute, Inc.

Now this soldier turned soccer mom turned Ms. Veteran America contestant hopes to channel that strength into donning her old combat boots with a new evening gown as an ambassador for Final Salute in the Ms. Veteran America competition.

Ms. Veteran America raises funds for Final Salute, Inc., a non-profit charity that has provided more than 17,000 traditional housing days and financial services to 7,339 homeless female veterans in 30 states.

Local Help at Asheville VA

Scully also found a huge support network at the Asheville VA, where a female Marine veteran Jennifer Behar, who was formerly homeless, started the only female peer-led support group. It’s called Veteran “Hope,” and it brings female veterans together in a safe way. Scully explained, “Most civilians don’t know that female veterans do not congregate like male veterans do. We are actually scared of each other due to situations in our time in service.”

Any female veteran locally that needs help can contact the Asheville VA to connect with Veteran “Hope.”