Erica Webster - formerly Erica Walsh - wasn't crowned this year's Ms. Veteran America, but in her view she came away a big winner.
While participating in the annual competition, the Philadelphia woman raised $13,411 for Final Salute Inc., a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides housing to homeless female veterans.
For her efforts, which included online solicitations, she was named Sunday the competition's runner-up in fund-raising efforts.
Webster, an Army veteran and former Guantánamo Bay guard, was one of 25 finalists who competed in Washington in the contest, which celebrates "the woman behind the uniform." The 25 were chosen from about 120 participants.
The contestants were scored on a variety of attributes, including knowledge of military history, grace, poise, confidence, and personality. Height, weight, and age were not taken into account.
Webster, 30, who was married during the summer and moved from Montgomery County to the city's Andorra section, owns a fitness studio in King of Prussia called Dub Fitness and is a full-time student at West Chester University.
On Monday she said she was proud of what she accomplished.
"I win because I helped raise awareness and advocate for my fellow female veterans who put their lives on the line, served our country, came home to nothing, are dealing with terrible health care, and had been cast aside with no voice in our country and community," Webster said.
"I refuse to quit here."
Female veterans are more likely than their male counterparts to raise children alone or to be victims of sexual trauma in the military, factors that can lead to homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Early in the competition, Webster became friends with the woman who won on Sunday. She called Molly Mae Potter of Austin, Texas, who served in the Air Force, "the most amazing advocate for these silenced women."
"We both saw the fiery passion in each other and instantly joined forces, and that led to friendship," Webster said. "I feel incredibly blessed to have connected with her. Military bonds are so unique."
While the new Ms. Veteran America was deployed in Afghanistan a few years ago, she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Potter was later found to have post traumatic stress disorder and now advocates for resources for veterans.
Army Capt. Makeda Tiye Young of North Carolina was the first runner-up, and Charlynda Scales, a Tennessee native, the second runner-up.