NEWS | March 4, 2022

Profiles in Professionalism: Lt. Cmdr. Kristin Leone

By Andre Sobocinski, Historian, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

It is estimated that between 32,000 and 37,000 women veterans are homeless or living below the poverty line.  

Seventy percent of homeless veterans are single mothers.  

And women veterans are twice as likely to become homeless than women who have never served in the military.  

For Navy Reserve Nurse Lt. Cmdr. Kristin Leone the plight of homeless women veterans is a public health issue requiring action. In recent years, Leone has met with civic groups, schools, elected officials and military leadership to bring greater attention to this cause and help curb the growing numbers. 

Lt. Cmdr. Leone entered the Navy in 2010 after 12 years as a civilian nurse in New Jersey. With a family history that included a grandfather who served aboard the destroyer USS Stockton in World War II and an uncle who was an Air Force flight surgeon, there was always an interest to do her part and serve but, as she jokes, her “overprotective Italian family talked her out of it” after college.  

“I always liked the idea of being able to serve my country beyond the boundaries of what I would do as a civilian nurse,” said Leone. “I love that I have additional nursing and leadership skills that I’ve earned. In the Navy you learn to adapt and overcome and it has made me a better nurse and a better person.”

Leone has made the most of her time in the Navy and has always been eager for new opportunities and challenges. 

In 2013, she represented the Navy on the Armed Forces Tae Kwon Do team. Two years later she volunteered for deployment to the NATO Role III Multinational Medical Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As Leone puts it, these new experiences forced her to “lean into the fear” and move beyond her comfort zone. 

And in 2020, Leone “leaned in” again when a friend suggested she compete in the Ms. Veterans America pageant.  

Ms. Veterans America is an annual competition started in 2012 by the non-profit organization Final Salute. Its mission is two-fold: to bring awareness to the issue of homeless women veterans and showcase military “women behind the uniform.” Contestants undergo interviews about important issues affecting military women and compete in a talent portion. Pageant proceeds goes to housing for homeless women veterans and their children. 

“Part of the competition is to advocate for homeless female veterans,” Leone related. “And the more research I did the more I found that this is a huge problem across the country.” 

Leone reached the semi-finals (top 25) that year. In wake of competition the cause of homeless women veterans became her “passion project.” 

“I took it upon myself to continue the fight and continue the conversation with schools, with women and veteran organizations,” said Leone.  

The leading causes of homelessness among women veterans include lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, poverty, and domestic violence. As Leone explained, family issues and medical discharges leading to abrupt ends to military careers as well as not having a plan for post-military life can also factor into homelessness.

“So, if they’re not prepared and they don’t know where the resources are, it can set them up for failure, which, in my mind, is one of the reasons why we need to be talking about this issue,” said Leone.

A key part of tackling the problem is awareness and Leone believes it is vital that there are conversations with military personnel about transitioning out of the service and the resources available to them. Among the ideas Leone has championed include incorporating these conversations as part of the mandatory General Military Training (GMT).

In recent years, her advocacy has yielded unexpected platforms for bringing attention to the cause.

In 2020 she was chosen as the grand marshal of the Philadelphia Veteran’s Day Parade and in 2021 was the co-grand marshal of the parade. In 2021, Leone became the host and producer of a television talk show to “educate, motivate and inspire.”  

Leone takes immense pride in the opportunities the Navy has afforded her and the career experiences that have proved vital. And for service members as well as those considering military careers she has one piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to take on a new role that may be outside your comfort zone because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”