Passion for veterans lands Heather French Henry new role

Lexington, Ky.- (WKYT) Her name has been tossed around the Kentucky political arena more than once, but recently an appointment from Governor Steve Beshear landed a former Miss America in Frankfort.

Its a job that is more than personal to her and one she has spent more than a decade working for, veterans issues.

Recently, WKYT's Amber Philpott sat down with the new Commissioner of Veterans Affairs in Kentucky, Heather French Henry.

It was a night in 1999 that changed her life forever.

Announcer: "Heather Renee French is Miss America 2000.

The country introduced to a young lady from Maysville with a passion for veterans issues.

Since that night, her name has changed, she became a wife, a mom and a fashion designer but one thing stayed the same, her dedication to being an advocate for those who fought for our country.

Heather French Henry: "I wake up every morning thinking about veterans issues, I go to bed thinking about veterans issues."

Heather French Henry says she will forever be known as a former Miss America, but now she has a new title.

On July 1, she became Commissioner of Kentucky's Department of Veterans Affairs.

Henry: "I was completely honored by the Governor that he would appoint me in the position as Commissioner and to really fundamentally hold my experience credible that I have had the last 15 years."

The daughter of a disabled Vietnam veteran, Henry realized someone needed to be a voice for people like her father.

Her rein as Miss America allowed her to shine a national spotlight on the challenges veterans face.

In 2001 Congress passed legislation in her name aimed at ending homelessness for veterans across the country.

Her appointment now in Frankfort comes at a time during a fire-storm of negative headlines surrounding how veterans have been treated at federal Medical VA Hospitals.

Henry: "The good news about the media lately is that it has woken up the civilian population to realize there are needs that our veterans are facing and just because there is a Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't mean that all their needs are being met."

Henry says her work has always allowed her to have a close relationship with Kentucky's VA centers and she says that will continue and be a top priority.

Henry: "Luckily in Kentucky with Lexington and Louisville we just received the latest wait times and we are doing well considering the rest of the country. So we fair pretty well."

Her love of this country and those who stand up for it is evident when you hear her sing.

Henry singing: "I thank my Lord about to be living her to day."

When we sat down with Henry it was Miss Kentucky week in Lexington, a place that Henry says gave her the platform to make a real impact.

"The platform they choose that it can develop into a lifelong mission. That not only is it rewarding personally, but rewarding to the people you serve."

Some people thought there was no way a woman, non veteran, fashion designer could really do anything for veterans.

Henry: "I don't really believe in a glass ceiling, if I see an obstacle I'm going to get around it."

And Henry says that includes any obstacles for Kentucky veterans.

When asked if a run for office was in Commissioner Henry's future, she said at this point she can't say yes or no, but government does intrigue her very much.

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