Treatment leader to marshal parade
But to many of the more than 100 vets at Samaritan Village, a group of substance abuse treatment centers, she's just "Ma."
Davidson is director of veteran services at centers in Richmond Hill and Manhattan.
She was tapped as Grand Marshal of tomorrow's 90th New York City Veterans Day parade in honor of the 10 years she has spent serving veterans.
"I was a teenage substance abuser. I'm from the Vietnam era, and my dad is a World War II veteran," said Davidson, 56, a career social worker. "It makes sense that I ended up here."
The two residential treatment centers she runs offer what Davidson calls "therapeutic community treatment" to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and end up turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.
Each houses about 50 veterans, many of whom were sent there by a court mandate. Most vets entering the program have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, but several recent graduates served in Vietnam.
"The older guys get a pride and sense of meaning and the younger guys look up to them," Davidson said.
"We're a big family."
Guy Smith, 62, served in Vietnam for a year in 1968. The guilt he felt about returning home when many of his fellow soldiers died led him to a life of "self-medication," he said.
"I sold drugs, went to jail and carried a gun," said Smith. "I didn't think anything was wrong with me."
It took Smith more than 30 years to realize that he suffered from PTSD - a diagnosis that didn't exist when he returned from Vietnam.
"I'm so glad for the young guys," Smith said. "They don't have to wait for help. Help is here."
Davidson calls the treatment centers "sanctuaries" - places veterans can talk about the things that they saw in combat.
"War heroes don't want to tell you about their experiences because they don't want to put those pictures in your mind," she said. "They feel it's their burden to carry."
Shawn G., of Cambria Heights, is currently enrolled in the veteran's program. He joined the Marines in 2003 and served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he began drinking heavily.
When he returned to Queens in 2007, he had nightmares he felt no one would understand and rarely went out without a pistol. Last year, he was arrested for carrying a loaded shotgun into a cab.
In May, the Queens district attorney ordered that Shawn get treatment at Samaritan Village.
"It didn't seem real coming from jail to a place where people understand me," he said.
At both centers, there is a bond between Vietnam veterans and those returning from war today. Davidson calls the older men "role models for recovery."
"Never again will a generation of veterans leave another behind," she said.