By Scott Huddleston
With next year's completion of a Fisher House near Audie Murphy VA Hospital, San Antonio will have more “comfort homes” for military families than any community in the nation.
Fisher House Foundation president Dave Coker said that milestone reflects San Antonio's support for sick and wounded troops and veterans, and family members who stay in the houses for free while facing challenges many miles from home.
“It's a testament to San Antonio, how highly regarded the medical facilities are there,” said Coker, who is from San Antonio and now works out of the foundation's offices in Rockville, Md.
Since San Antonio's first Fisher House opened 20 years ago at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the Fisher House Foundation has expanded to three houses at the base and four at Fort Sam Houston. An eighth house by Audie Murphy, which recently opened the nation's fifth Level 1 polytrauma rehabilitation center, will open in early 2013, Coker said.
To support the project, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, which raised nearly $500,000 for the new $6 million home with a gala event in 2010, is planning a Nov. 9 fundraiser for the 15,000-square-foot house.
The event, “A Salute to Fisher House,” will feature Montel Williams as emcee, with entertainment by country music star Rodney Atkins, and is expected to raise between $450,000 and $500,000. More than 400 people, including wounded veterans and high-ranking military officials, are expected to attend.
Arthur Coulombe, the resort's general manager, said he's a firm believer in the mission and efficiency of the foundation.
“The Fisher Houses fill an enormous need that otherwise is not met for the veterans and their families. It's not just their fight; it's our fight as a country,” said Coulombe, 2013 chairman-elect of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Despite the end of the war in Iraq and planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, donations to the foundation for 2012 are more than 10 percent above last year's and projected to run about $30 million, Coker said.
The number of families served at 58 Fisher Houses worldwide has risen from 17,000 to about 18,000, he said.
Even though Wilford Hall has shifted services to ambulatory care, the Lackland Fisher Houses remain busy, serving families and patients with brief stays.
“A lot of doctors want to start surgery at 5 a.m. If you have to drive up from the Valley, you can check in the night before,” Coker said.
And while Fort Sam has treated well over 5,000 wounded troops with amputations, burns and other war trauma, the new VA polytrauma center “does miracles in giving them back their lives,” he said.
“By the time the families get there, they've already been through hell, having gone through one or two medical centers,” Coker said.
Families will have long stays at the new 16-suite Fisher House, since the VA estimates the average patient receives care at the polytrauma centers for 36 to 63 days. Accommodations and furnishings at the Fisher House exceed what the government provides.
“We want to give them the best,” Coker said.
A few tables, at $2,500, are available for the Nov. 9 event. For reservations, contact Mary Considine at 240-599-2470 or email@example.com.
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- Kamryn Jaroszewski