On an ordinary day in 2010, Marine Corps Veteran Robert McMahon returned from a fishing trip to find his house completely boarded up and already in foreclosure. The next thing he knew, he was living in a tent near the Chicago River, where he remained for close to three years.

At the time, McMahon was coping with various medical conditions, but he was determined to get back on his feet. After a fellow Marine Veteran recommended he visit the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital for assistance, McMahon quickly went to the VA medical center for help.

When he got there, he was asked a question that would change his life: “Marine, what can we do for you?”

The answer to the question, he found, would later land him in stable housing provided by the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.

“Hines VA hospital really cares about the Veterans, and I was pleased that they focused on me as a person and not what my circumstances were,” McMahon said. “If it weren’t for the doctors here, I’d probably be in really bad shape.”

McMahon’s positive experience – the genuine caring of the VA staff – is one that Hines’ leaders hope all Veterans share when they seek assistance.

“We really take pride in treating people with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” said Erin Mangano, the Homeless Program clinical manager at Hines. “I’m proud that Bob [McMahon] had such a good experience.”

Committed to giving back

 After receiving medical care and securing stable housing through Hines, McMahon wanted to support his fellow Veterans. He started volunteering at the Hines food pantry to help distribute fresh produce, meat, and nonperishable food to Veterans.

“Volunteering is an opportunity for me to give back to other Veterans,” McMahon said. “It’s an honor to do it and puts a smile on my face.”

Before the pandemic, McMahon hadn’t missed a distribution date in the six years the pantry has been in operation – becoming known as “Bob the meat man” for his oversight of frozen meat distribution.

However, once the coronavirus pandemic hit, the food pantry had to quickly change its operations to continue safely distributing food. For several months, volunteers were not allowed to be on-site, so employees ran the pantry. Instead of having Veterans line up and select food from tables, the food pantry moved to a grab-and-go model with all food pre-packed. For Veterans who have a car, the pantry designated outside parking spots so that employees could put food in the car with minimal contact. Veterans without transportation may walk inside the pantry to pick up their food while following safety restrictions. Fortunately, McMahon was able to rejoin the pantry team by the fall 2020 when volunteers were allowed back on campus.

McMahon lives with faith and deep gratitude for the homeless staff at Hines, abiding by his motto, “Smiles are free.”

More Information
  • Learn about the HUD-VASH program and enrollment eligibility at gov/homeless/hud-vash.
  • Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
  • Learn about the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.

Kerry Thomas is a social worker with the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program at Hines VA Coordinated Entry Specialist and is also the staff supervisor of the Hines VA Food Pantry.

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Published on Feb. 18, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.8 min.

Views to date: 190


  1. Michael Lunebach February 26, 2021 at 7:57 am

    The VA has been good to us. My mom was a wwII vet, I’m a Cold War vet and my son is a Afghanistan war vet. All 3 of us have been treated with care and generosity by the va.

  2. Victor Lucca February 25, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    The VA is a mess and always has been. I used the medical service once or twice back in 1970 after separating from service. I used the GI bill for education and for a VA home loan, which is just a guarantee to the lender. The VA nor the government lends you a penny. By 1977 I never used the VA again. My wife and I worked for everything we have and we raised a family of three honest hardworking children without government assistance. Anyhow I retired after 50 yrs of employment, raised a family and purchased a few homes with the assistance of my wife. When I attempted to get VA medical benefits, in 2012, I was informed I made too much money and was put on a priority list of 8g (Agent Orange exposure). For about 10 yrs I also worked for the VA in Tampa. Those Vets would drive up to the Valet service in Jaguars and Lexus, good cars, not junk. They would schedule doctor visits for Viagra pills. They would get free batteries for their hearing aids. They would receive aspirins and other OTC medications free of charges. If you fell on hard times or drug addiction, VA would assist you in a domiciliary. Seniors vets lived in the nursing home. I knew patients that travelled past VA facilities close to their home, in order to get more travel pay. True some vets truly deserve the help they get and may God bless them. But others, many are just gaming the system, getting a free ride,
    playing the victim.

  3. Krzysztof Bajorski February 20, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    Bullsht…. I’m a homeless vet that the VA REFUSES to help… As a matter of fact the va made me walk home 45 miles. And helped to have me illegally incarcerated

    • Rob February 24, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      This is more true than the fairy tales in VA prattle

  4. Jas February 19, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    The VA also helped me and my family get assistance when we found ourselves homeless shortly after I left the service. It was a difficult road but we’re back on our feet and thriving in less than 2 years after seeking out help. Thank you VA for supporting and caring for veterans ♥️

  5. Debi Meyer February 19, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    I was a homeless Army Veteran.
    The VA center at the Long Beach, CA Health center was a the center of my world while I was homeless.
    I received good. help there. They took care of my needs
    especially my mental health. I ended up having to find my own mental health care. I
    tried two different Psychiatrist
    Both I tried seemed uncaring and one of the Psychiatrist flat out refused to give me medication for panic attacks.
    I will leave out the things I experienced there.
    The Volunteers were all very helpful and would walking with me to help me learn where to find all my appointments.

  6. Christine Heartwell February 19, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    I own my home and it is falling down around me. I’m 100% disabled vet. I need help with my roof that has holes in it. I have broken windows that I’m unable to repair because the windows are 60 years old. The house has no insulation so my gas and electric bills are extremely high. I have a bath room that was stripped to remodel but wasn’t complete. The list goes on. I’ve asked begged and cried for help. I found none. I’m not able to get a loan to fix any of these issues because of poor credit. I can make small payment but like I said I’m disabled and on a fixed income. I have replaced all the water lines in the house. Replaced the main water and outside sewer lines. I have ripped the roof off the front porch but I injured myself when I fell thru. If there is any help out there I could sure use the information

    [Editor: Christine, consider refinancing with the VA Cash-Out Loan. You can take equity out of your home for repairs: https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/home-loans/loan-types/cash-out-loan/ ]

  7. Jesse Q Rutten February 19, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    Last year, I went to Home Endeavors, HudVash, SSVF, no one assisted me. My rent was $700, I only got $779 from SSI. I’m considered high risk due to blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, a triple bypass, & 6 back surgeries. I am considered 100% disabled, just waiting on my V.A. Claim to go through. My ex & I got back together around last June because I’m high risk for COVID-19 & they were worried about me. Especially since no V.A. program would really assist me. So it gets me riled when I read this & you make everything sound so simple & easy. I’m in San Antonio, Texas. I got sent from place to place. All these programs really don’t help.

  8. Rhonda DiStefano February 19, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    I am in need of both a Vaccine, due to the weather couldn’t make it to my appointment. Also, I am ready to transition from an assited living to an apartment. But I need help!! Who do I contact. I am a disabled Veteran.

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