Female Veterans of ‘Served Like a Girl’ Are Not ‘Damsels in Distress’

“If my disability didn’t kick in, I would still be homeless,” veteran Hope Garcia tells TheWrap

The women of the documentary “Served Like a Girl” are not “damsels in distress” nor “birds with broken wings,” said female war veteran Jas Boothe. Rather, according to her, they are warriors who served their country and are now in need.

Featured in the doc, Boothe spoke with TheWrap Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman at its Awards Screening Series at the Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles on Monday night, joined by another veteran, Hope Garcia, and filmmaker Lysa Heslov.

“It was like she put on a uniform and boots, too, and was right there in the trenches with us,” said Boothe, praising Heslov for her realistic approach to the film. “We were just extremely amazed at not only how she portrayed our vulnerability, but also our strength and resilience,” she added.

“Served Like a Girl” profiles American women returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are wounded, coping with PTSD, sexual abuse or broken family lives, and countless more are even left homeless. Boothe is the founder of Final Salute Inc. and the beneficiary behind the Ms. Veteran America pageant. As depicted in the documentary, the pageant is a competition to find a spokesperson to educate people about supporting homeless veterans and their children.

Since “Served Like a Girl” was nominated for the Grand Jury Award for a Documentary Feature at this year’s SXSW, filmmakers have hosted screenings across the country and for a bi-partisan group of Congress in an effort to spark a national dialogue.

“I made it through my situation, so it doesn’t directly affect me. But this is seven stories of tens of thousands of stories that people didn’t even know existed,” Boothe said. “Far beyond me, I am trying to get ahead of the problem. We have been reactive as a nation when it comes to our veterans needs as opposed to being proactive.”

Heslov is a first-time filmmaker who started filming with the idea that her documentary would just focus on the Ms. Veteran America competition. That changed quickly when she met Boothe and Garcia, both of whom were homeless after coming back from their tours of duty.

“For me, since I was a first time director and I was so insecure, I cast girls who were the same on-camera and off. They did not have an edit,” Heslov said. “They were the girls who you would see and would make a judgment about as another woman, whatever it was, and you’re proven wrong. They’re real badasses. You can still have a Washington Redskins cheerleader who is a badass. For me, it was that discovery.”

Boothe explained that the federal definition of “homeless” is outdated. It’s not all people sleeping on a park bench or in tents on the street. Rather, Boothe says over 70 percent of the homeless veteran population have children. They’re forced to “couch surf” and “hide our homelessness” for risk of losing their kids, and because they live under a roof, they’re not considered “homeless” by the government. The combination of an outdated definition and miscommunication between branches of governments affects the financial aid and support that these veterans have access to.

“If my disability didn’t kick in, I would still be homeless. That’s the only reason,” Garcia said. “If I didn’t have my disability, I would still be couch surfing or sleeping in my car.”

A fact sheet from the Department of Veteran Affairs estimates there are over 2 million female veterans in the U.S. And Boothe says 60 percent of government-funded shelters don’t take in women with children, and some don’t provide support for women at all. But Boothe, Garcia and Heslov will continue to push for change.

“If you’re deployed to a combat zone, regardless of what your job is, you’re going to need some type of support or counseling when you get back,” Boothe said. “You literally have to fight for it.”