Elizabeth Luras is a tireless advocate for veterans.
It’s a responsibility she takes to heart, traveling the country in support of military men and women.
For her efforts, the Auburn woman was chosen as a first runner-up at the recent Ms. Veteran America contest in Leesburg, Va.
Contestants are scored in four categories – interview, talent, military history and advocacy. Scoring criteria include grace, poise, confidence and personality.
The Ms. Veteran America contest started last year to showcase women beyond the uniform. Competitors ranged in age from 21 to 89.
Proceeds from the event benefit Final Salute Inc., which provides safe, suitable housing for homeless female veterans.
At the contest, Luras also received the Ms. Resilience Award for her extensive work with veterans.
“There’s definitely a lot of work to be done, but it’s something I feel very passionate about,” said Luras, 32, a disabled Army veteran and Oregon native who works for World Vision in Federal Way. “Even when you get out of the military, it’s still so much a part of you. You still carry that code of being a soldier. You honor that commitment and do not leave your battle buddies behind.”
“A lot of the work I do now is giving a hand up to other veterans who have fallen on hard times,” she said.
Luras suffered military sexual trauma as a young soldier. She has overcome the challenges of the past to help others today, advocating for MST (military sexual trauma) veterans in what is increasingly being called the Invisible War. She can relate to the hardships and unique challenges MST veterans face.
“Experiencing MST as a young soldier, initially I felt like, ‘Oh, my gosh, maybe I’m the only one,'” Luras said of her ordeal. “And since then, I got the opportunity to meet other MST survivors from all over the 50 states. They’re incredible women. … To go through something challenging like that, it’s like, ‘You have a choice on how you are going to handle things. You can either give up or you can turn it around and … use this to the best of my ability … to make it something, a positive change.'”
Luras also supports and mentors veterans, helping them to apply for benefits and directing them to appropriate services. Luras has extended her efforts to include volunteering her time as a National Veterans Suicide Intervention advocate and serving as a board member for a Women Veterans Advocacy nonprofit organization. Her work is intended to help veterans get back on their feet as they make the transition to civilian life.
Luras has worked in the Veteran Administration system with the chaplains office and has done extensive speaking and lobbying efforts for veterans groups.
Last weekend Luras accepted the Stevie Award in New York City, on behalf of Ms. Veteran America, which was voted Event of the Year for 2013.
Final Salute Inc. President Jaspen Boothe also was awarded Woman of the Year for Government and Nonprofit Work.
Luras hopes to run for Ms. Veteran America 2014 and continue to advocate for her fellow veterans.
“This is definitely my calling and my passion,” Luras said of her work. “You celebrate the victories … but the work is far from over.”