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Fighting for homeless female veterans

Local Ms. Veteran America finalist hosts fundraiser

Kerri Turner performs her skit “Through the Years” at the Olympia Eagles Lodge for a fundraiser for homeless women veterans Oct. 9. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

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The veteran community is changing. Women are taking a much more active role in the military, with more jobs opening up to female servicemembers. Combat positions are gradually opening up to female applicants, though several women have already received awards for bravery in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, many women are also among America's roughly 49,900 homeless veterans. Hard numbers are hard to pin down, but Capt. Kerri Turner said it's a serious problem that's not getting enough attention.

This weekend, Turner, an OCS instructor with the Washington National Guard, will be competing in the Ms. Veteran America pageant, which works to raise money for Final Salute Inc., a charity that works to help homeless female veterans and their families. And last Friday, Turner teamed up with the Olympia Eagles Club to hold a fundraiser of her own for the group.

The event featured live music from Laura Lowe & The Mud Bay Blues Band as well as Turner unveiling her talent she'll be performing at the pageant this weekend. She performed a skit entitled, "Through The Years," which charted the military history of American women from the revolution to the war on terror - all in the course of three minutes.

The predominant view of veteran homelessness is often also very male centric, but Turner explained that with current wars having less defined frontlines, women are increasingly subject to the physical and psychological trauma of warfare and often bear the same wounds as men. This can lead to struggles with employment and taking care of families when they leave service.

"It's not just the veteran who serves," she said, explaining that deployments, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues that effect veterans also deeply impact their spouses and children. In America, homelessness is often thought of as a problem that afflicts individuals, but families are often particularly hard hit.

"The VA is a great safety net for veterans, but it isn't a safety net for spouses and military kids," Turner explained. "They still often fall through the cracks."

Turner is particularly invested in supporting the cause. "I was a teen mom," she explained. Her oldest son, now 16 years old, was born when Turner herself was 16. She ended up joining the Army at age 21, and has deployed to the Middle East and served during the Oso Mudslide.

Corey Crawford, the Madame President of the Olympia Eagles Auxiliary said that supporting Turner, a fellow member of the organization, is a huge part of what they do. "Our motto is people helping people," she explained. Turner was able to host her fundraiser at the Olympia Eagle's Lodge free of charge, so that more money would go to the cause.

Eagles member Kelli Morgan, a friend of Turner, added that membership in the Eagles is free of charge for the first year for veterans and first responders. She said that for soldiers new to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it's a great way to meet people and serve the community.

Turner is excited and nervous about competing for the Ms. Veteran America crown this weekend. But she said win or lose, her work to support Last Salute will continue. "It's a part of who I am," she said.

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