The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was established in 1942 by women eager to support their country. Later dropping “Auxiliary” to become the WAC, its founders argued that by including women in the Army to manage clerical jobs, more men could be free to support the “rougher work.”

Though women have been essential in American wartime efforts since the revolution, they had at that time never earned full military benefits. Still, thanks to the WAC’s support, the United States helped the Allies prevail in World War II and enjoyed a post-war period of prosperity previously unimaginable. And when the nation entered Vietnam, the WACs were waiting.

American women were not drafted nor expected to serve in the Vietnam War. Nonetheless, more than 265,000 served as volunteers, including WACs. Among these brave women was Ida McDonald, the ink on her high school diploma barely dry. McDonald, who served from 1974 to 1977, would be one of the last WACs.

The year after she transitioned to civilian life, President Jimmy Carter disbanded the WAC – and fully integrated the Army.

McDonald did not have much time to reflect on her contribution to our nation. She had a son enrolled in college and found work to sustain her family. For over 30 years, she took great pride in her home’s upkeep, accomplishing even the most strenuous physical tasks on her own. Living in Buffalo, winters could be particularly challenging for McDonald. The city averages more than 100 inches of snow each year.

Given two weeks to vacate before demolished

After flood, no heat for years

In the 1980s, McDonald’s pipes fell victim to Buffalo’s freezing temperatures. The home she had poured her heart and savings into filled with water. In a matter of hours, this Veteran saw her hard work fall into a state of permanent disrepair. Instead of abandoning the damage, McDonald adjusted to a new reality without the luxuries – and often necessities – of modern living, including running water, electricity and heat.

For more than two decades, McDonald survived by seeking heat at local warming shelters and soup kitchens. Though the circumstances eventually became normal to her, the city disagreed. In 2021, Buffalo deemed McDonald’s home uninhabitable and informed her that she had two weeks to vacate the property before it would be demolished.

Due to the pandemic, the demolition was delayed. The pause proved just enough time for HUD-VASH to learn of the situation.

When she visited the VA Western New York Health Care System’s homeless program, McDonald was offered a hot shower and meal. Most importantly, she received a referral to HUD-VASH and a voucher – resources that enabled McDonald to find her new home at the Mary Agnes Manor Assisted Living Facility in only a matter of weeks.

HUD-VASH and VA’s Geriatrics and Extended Care programs are supporting the development and expansion of housing models based on existing use Public Housing Authority special housing types and existing GEC programs.

These are where Veterans can use their vouchers in community-based programs. Those programs include medical foster homes, home assisted living communities and residential care. Mary Agnes Manor is the first assisted living facility in Buffalo, NY, to partner with VA to get aging Veterans into safe, stable housing that also offers the supportive services they need.

“As long as I can walk, I go.”

McDonald became the first woman to be served through this partnership. The program gave “I’ll be home for Christmas” a new meaning for her. She moved just in time to spend the holiday in her new home, and has been enjoying her new routine since.

“Now I can get up and take a shower, eat, clean, cook,” she said of her new normal. In addition to a safe place to live, help from her HUD-VASH caseworker Allison O’Brien has restored McDonald’s sense of independence. “I basically do everything every day myself. As long as I can walk and use my hands and feet, I go,” she said.

McDonald acknowledges it was difficult to leave her home initially. Still, she is grateful for VA’s support. She encourages all Veterans in similar situations to learn about benefits they have earned through VA.

“I hate to see people out there during the cold,” McDonald concluded with optimism. “VA is very open for helping.”

Learn about VA programs

By Deborah Lee is a HUD-VASH regional coordinator with the VHA Homeless Programs Office

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Published on Mar. 31, 2022

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One Comment

  1. Constance Williams April 1, 2022 at 10:27 am

    It’s wonderful to see programs designed to benefit one’s in need actually get the help that they need and. you can in turn see them no longer “just existing but thriving.”..

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