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Air Force veteran, mental health advocate crowned Miss Maine USA

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 5:36 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Air Force veteran VeronicaIris Bates is the new Miss Maine USA 2021.

She plans to use her platform to advocate for other veterans who suffer from PTSD.

“Everything that I’ve accomplished in my life has been with other people, the biggest one being graduating from basic military training. You know, you’re with a group. This is the first thing I’ve ever done on my own, so it was just a surreal feeling,” Bates said.

Bates’ crowning moment was a long time coming. She first turned to pageants as a junior at Portland High School after suffering a concussion playing volleyball.

“I needed something that challenged me. With interview and the lights and the music and the sound, it seemed like a good thing to try to get me back to where I was,” Bates said.

Then last weekend, another health scare nearly stopped her from taking the stage.

“Two days before the pageant, I had an emergency appendectomy. So, I thought I was going to be taken out of the running. But, my doctors worked with me, my family and friends still supported me, and they pushed me to be my best self. So, going into this, I knew I was going to leave everything I had on stage that night,” Bates said.

Bates bested nearly two-dozen other women vying for the title.

She’ll juggle her duties with her studies at American Military University where she’s now enrolled after joining the Air Force out of high school.

At 19 years old, she spent a year stationed in South Korea.

“I knew that school wasn’t really for me, especially after my concussion. It’s not that my grades were bad, I just found education difficult as a whole. And, too, I wanted that real world experience. I wanted to be a more well-rounded person,” Bates said.

Now, she’s studying health science and criminal justice. For personal reasons, she wants to pursue psychology, too.

“Being a veteran, I was unfortunately diagnosed with PTSD, and that’s something I want to look more into. I want to continue to advocate for my fellow veterans who have PTSD. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m trying to put my foot down and overcome it, and I know some people aren’t as lucky as I am,” Bates said.

Bates will represent Maine at the Miss USA Pageant this fall.

The finals are scheduled for November in Oklahoma.

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