By Scott Schonauer
Bracing for a generation of war veterans needing long-term medical care, the Fisher House Foundation plans to build two dozen homes near military and Veterans Affairs hospitals in the U.S.
By 2011, the non-profit foundation plans to boost its network of 38 homes to 62, said James Weiskopf, executive vice president of communications for the Rockville, Md.-based Fisher House Foundation, Inc. He said the foundation is expecting an influx of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with such ailments as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The foundation, created in 1990, builds homes near military or VA medical facilities for families of patients needing a place to stay while their loved ones receive care. Donations allow families to stay at the homes for free.
"We've largely taken care of the needs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, but the needs of the [Veterans Affairs] is absolutely huge," Weiskopf said Wednesday while on a visit to Landstuhl. "They really need these houses. These young men and women have got to have their families with them when they're going through their rehabilitation, and the house is the means that allows them to do that."
The foundation plans to finish building five homes by the end of this year. Four of those homes are near VA hospitals and clinics.
"Our future is really with the [Veterans Affairs clinics]," Weiskopf said. "The long-term signature wound of this war is the traumatic brain injury and that has a long-term period of rehabilitation, and that will be done by the VA."
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest military hospital outside the U.S., has two Fisher Houses that offer 19 rooms. The hospital serves war wounded and patients stationed at bases across Europe. Weiskopf said there are no plans to build any additional houses at Landstuhl because they currently have enough space to accommodate the need.
Members of the foundation were at Landstuhl on Wednesday to recognize hospital staff and volunteers. Around 1,000 attended a barbecue on post. The Defense Commissary Agency and American Logistics Association sponsored the event by providing food and servers.
Staff Sgt. Fredy Zoque, a Bradley fighting vehicle mechanic from Schweinfurt, Germany, praised the Landstuhl Fisher House and staff.
His three children and wife stayed at the Fisher House last year as he recovered from a broken ankle suffered during a deployment to Iraq. He returned to Landstuhl this month for surgery and attended the get-together.
"It's such a relief knowing that you're in the hospital and you don't have to worry about them," said Zoque, who has been transferred to a Warrior Transition Unit as he recovers. "The treatment here is better than a five-star hotel."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski