By Kelly Phillips Erb
My brother got married yesterday. He’s in the military so the service was arranged in between deployments. His new wife understands that their lives will be largely like this: planning for birthdays, anniversaries and other events in between being shipped in and out. It is tough but it is the life that he signed on for when he joined the Navy. It is something that all military personnel make work. It is part of their sacrifice.
My brother (and his older brother before him) is lucky. He has been able to make his life work under difficult conditions. But he has never been injured in combat or required special medical care that would take him even further away from his family. For those that have, there is Fisher House.
The Fisher House program is a unique private-public partnership that supports America’s military in their time of need. Fisher House Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers to family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times – during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury. There are currently 58 Fisher Houses located in the United States and Germany.
Since its inception, Fisher House has served nearly 160,000 families and offered over four million days of lodging to families in need. By law, there is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse the individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. No family pays to stay at any Fisher House. That means that families need not stress about the cost of spending time with their sick or injured loved ones in the military over holidays (like Christmas!), birthdays and special occasions.
Fisher House does more than offer free lodging for military families. They also administer the “Hero Miles” program in partnership with the Department of Defense. Under the program, Fisher House Foundation provides free airline tickets to wounded, injured, and ill military men and women who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center and to attend authorized events. Qualifying service men and women may also be given free round trip airline tickets to enable their family or close friends to visit them while they are being treated at the medical center. Participating airlines include Airtran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways.
There is a similar program, the “Hotels for Heroes” program. The program is comprised of individual hotel companies whose travelers donate their hotel points to assist service members and their families. Specifically, Fisher House Foundation provides free hotel rooms to wounded, injured, and ill military men and women who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center and to attend authorized events.
How can you help? If you want to volunteer, contact the House Manager at a house near you. Volunteer opportunities include: bringing in meals and snacks for residents, helping with general housekeeping chores, organizing goods drives such as paper product drives, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, etc. Also, there are often young mothers and fathers in the homes who may feel overwhelmed, our volunteers offer babysitting service and help play with the children to give the parents a break and some quiet time (as a mom, I can say that I imagine this is a huge help).
You can donate your frequent flyer miles to the “Hero Miles” program (you’re not using them anyway, right?). Specific instructions for each of the airlines can be found here. Instructions for converting credit card miles are also on that page.
You can also donate your hotel points to the “Hotels for Heroes” program. Participating hotels include Marriott, Best Western, Wyndham, Laquinta Inns and Suites (beginning in January), Americinn and Choice Hotels. Find out how to donate your points here. Please note that, as spelled out on the web site, the IRS does not recognize donations of hotel points as tax a deduction since taxes were not collected from individuals when they earned the points.
You can make a cash donation online to the organization (note that Fisher House is a four star charity according to Charity Navigator and 96% of funds go directly to the cause). If you’d prefer to mail your donation, you can do that, too.
Some other organizations also support Fisher. Find out who is helping and how you can join those efforts here.
And if you’re in the market for a truck driven by a former President, on January 19, 2013, a 2009 Ford F-150 King Ranch 4×4 SuperCrew pickup once owned by former President George W. Bush, used exclusively on Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, will be auctioned off and the proceeds given to Fisher House. The title will be transferred to the new buyer directly from former President Bush (he’s also signed the passenger airbag panel).
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski