SPARTA, Wis. (AP) _ Miss America Heather French, meeting with homeless veterans at the Army's Fort McCoy, shared her own story of growing up in a family with a disabled vet.

``When I was 4 years old, my father started taking me with him to the VA hospital in Cincinnati,'' she told the participants in a vets' assistance program. ``I learned that issues that face veterans face the whole family.''

Being ``in the trenches'' with the veterans now helps her better understand their problems, she said.

French, 25, from Maysville, Ky., has spent much of her year of service as Miss America lobbying lawmakers for more support of homeless veterans and has testified before Congress on their behalf.

``She has done a great job for the veterans,'' said Pete Gnirk, of Elroy, who watched her arrival Wednesday from his wheelchair and received a kiss from French. ``She has done more for us than the Congress has.

``She is the first Miss America who ever thought of us.''

As she joined in group discussion with the veterans, French passed around her Miss America crown so everyone got a chance to see it up close.

``It belongs to you, not me,'' she said. ``As a daughter of a veteran, you mean more to me than any other segment of the population,'' she told the group.