By Michael Hoffman
Families of wounded warriors might soon not have to pick up the bill for hotel stays near military hospitals while their injured service members heal.
Modeled after the “Hero Miles” program that pays to fly wounded warriors and their families round trip to receive care in the military health system, two Maryland lawmakers want to help cover their hotel expenses too.
The program called “Hotels for Heroes” will use hotel point donations from private citizens to pay for hotel rooms for family and friends of wounded warriors while they heal from their injuries. Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both from Maryland, authored legislation in December to start the program.
Cardin and Ruppersberger announced Friday in Baltimore that the Marriott, Wyndham and AmericInn hotel chains will join Hotels for Heroes, but the lawmakers emphasized that they need more to join.
“This only works if we have the help of the hotels and we’ve seen with Hero Miles that people are very willing to come forward to donate their miles or in this case their hotel points,” Ruppersberger said in a phone interview Thursday.
Much like Hero Miles, the Fisher House Foundation will oversee the Hotels for Heroes program once it starts. The Fisher House already helps provide family members with free or low cost lodging near military medical centers to family members of wounded warriors.
Ruppersberger said he hopes Hotels for Heroes can start accepting hotel point donations by Memorial Day. An official date when the Fisher House can start offering hotel rooms through the program has not been decided, the congressman said.
Ruppersberger got the idea to start Hero Miles before taking a flight at Baltimore Washington International Airport and seeing soldiers deployed to Iraq waiting to fly home for their R&R leave. One soldier told the congressman he had to pay for the flight himself.
“I thought this was just ridiculous. At the very least we should be paying for these guys to go home and see their families for two weeks,” Ruppersberger said.
The program eventually morphed into Hero Miles with eight partner airlines, which has helped pay for airfare for wounded service members and their families since 2005
Ruppersberger said he hopes to help the same number of service members and their families with Hotels for Heroes.
“This is such a great opportunity to give back to these men and women who have sacrificed for us. The real key right now, though, is finding the hotels to work with us,” he said.
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