Author, Entrepreneur, Army Veteran, Cancer Survivor, Innovator, Philanthropist & Speaker
Throughout her military career, Jas has been dedicated to working with and advocating for soldiers and their family members. In 2005, she was a single parent in the Army Reserves living in New Orleans. That spring, she learned she would soon be deploying to Iraqand then a few months later she lost everything she owned due to Hurricane Katrina. She tried to shift her focus to her platoon that was counting on her for leadership in a combat zone. The very next month she received a devastating diagnosis of an aggressive head, neck, and throat cancer, and was now unable to deploy. Her options were limited and posed some very hard choices. Because of her illness, she had to discharge from the military. She needed complex full-time medical care, employment, and a place to live with her young son. When searching for what assistance might be available, she was told there were no existing programs for women veterans with children. She found these options unacceptable for a woman who had honorably served her country.
This led to Jas establishing Final Salute in 2010—she was determined to ensure her fellow sister veterans had a resource in their time of need. She also wanted to ensure they were treated with the dignity and respect earned they had earned under extremely severe circumstances. Final Salute has raised over $1 million dollars to support homeless women veterans and their children and has assisted over 900 women veterans and children.
She also founded the Ms Veteran America competition, honoring the women beyond the uniform and highlighting the service and sacrifice of every women that has worn the U.S. military uniform.
In 2015 Jas was recognized with the Lillian K. Keil Award “for outstanding contributions to the military by and on behalf of American women” during a Veterans Awards conference Nov. 7, 2015 in Washington, D.C., organized by the American Veterans Center. The honor recognizes trailblazing women in the U.S. military and is named after the World War II-era flight nurse and Air Force captain.
Tell us about the organization you started—Final Salute
I started Final Salute Inc. in 2010 after battling cancer and becoming homeless after Hurricane Katrina. I found out there were a significantly large number of women veterans who were homeless. I saw this huge need and started Final Salute, which is designed to meet and understand the unique needs of homeless women Veterans and their children. There are no longer front lines in war, however, female Veterans feel they are put at the end of line when seeking housing and other supportive services. It is estimated that there are currently 55,000 homeless women Veterans in the United States on any given day. For the sacrifices they and their families have made, this is an unacceptable state for any of them to be in. The mission of Final Salute is to support them during their time of need, and with the help of the American people, foundations and corporate supporters, we know our mission is achievable. We also work with the women veterans to help establish strategies and plans to achieve independence. We have assisted over 900 women veterans and children in over 30 states and territories. It only takes $25 daily through our program to provide housing, food, clothing, employment support, case management and other essential supportive services.
People ask me, “Why are we doing this? Because as a soldier I took an oath to never leave a fallen comrade.”
You have received over 30 different honors for your work with Final Salute. Can you tell us about one?
I received the Oprah Winfrey Standing Ovation in 2015 for my work with Final Salute. The “Standing O-Vation” recognizes people who are making positive changes in their communities and inspiring others to do the same. This award was important to me for two reasons. The first reason is had I not watched the Oprah show on homeless women veterans, I would not be where I am today. Up until that time, I had always thought that my situation as a homeless woman veteran was an isolated one. To learn I wasn’t alone and women veterans were still being left behind helped me to find my purpose and calling in life. The second reason this award was so important is because Oprah told me “thank you”. The non-profit business and business of advocating is hard and often sometimes a thankless profession. Some days you don’t feel like you are making a difference or enough or a difference. But keep working hard because people are watching and rooting for you.