Joy Horan served 10 years in the Army. After getting out, she went through a difficult divorce and ultimately spent two years homeless with her two children before meeting a female attorney who helped her get back on her feet. While she is still dealing with PTSD and complications from a service-related knee injury, Horan said she wants to help other female veterans. Now, she’s a contestant in Ms. Veteran America, an annual pageant held by Final Salute, Inc. Proceeds from the event benefit homeless female veterans. Learn more at and You can find Horan on Twitter under the handle @JoyH4MVA2017.

There were a lot of reasons that led to your competing.

Somebody gave me hope, and now I want to pass that hope on to others. During being a contestant, I’ve learned that not a lot of people in Reno are aware of it. … We’ve had to create Facebook pages as public figures … and Twitter pages … and that’s my outreach—like, “Hey, did you know about Ms. Veteran America? … Go on my website or go on my Facebook or my Twitter page.” It’s a cause. It’s not actually a pageant. It’s a cause. It’s to bring awareness for homeless female veterans. So I’m using the pageant, well, I’m using the cause to bring awareness.

I’ve heard the terminology “pageant” called into question in the discussion of this, and I hear you hesitate to call it that, but it is a pageant—also. How do you feel about that?

It’s a pageant meaning there’s a winner, and you get a crown. But it’s not a pageant. It doesn’t focus on body image. It doesn’t focus on structure of the body. When you make it to the semi-finals, yeah, you have to have a talent, and you do an interview. And then they look at your public figure pages to see how you communicate … and how the community responds to you. And then when you make it to the finals, you have a talent. You have an interview. They do push-ups on stage. They do military history. So, yeah, in terms it is a pageant, but it’s not. It’s something that was started to bring awareness to the female homeless veterans, and it’s kind of a fun way to get people involved.

Semi-finals are in May in Las Vegas, right? How are you preparing?

I’m stressed out. I don’t know what I’m doing yet as a talent. I don’t know if I have a talent. But, you know, right now I’m just hoping to get out and guest speak and communicate with the public … and get feedback from the community, educate the community.

I’ve seen your paintings online. Perhaps that could be your talent?

Yeah, but I don’t know how you can paint onstage.

Good point.

I interpret for the hearing impaired. I thought about signing a song and having my painting up. I don’t know. I do archery, but it’s like—do I want to carry my bow and arrows to the stage?

Still thinking about that part then. But the issue here, female veteran homelessness, is one that’s close to your heart.

Oh, yeah. … Just walking through these [VA] halls, and just knowing what I’ve been through—I know that there’s others out there. It’s an embarrassment to ask for help. When we were in the military we stood for so much. We meant so much … and then to get out and kind of disappear into society. It’s fearful to ask for help. It’s kind of out of our realm to ask for help, when in the military … it was [ingrained] in us not to ask for help.