By Janet Goetze
However, thanks to the Fisher House Foundation, Murray and her two children traveled from their home, then in St. Helens, to visit Spec. Matthew Murray for nearly a week without paying for lodging.
They stayed in the base's Fisher House, a "home away from home" for families of patients at military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers. New York philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher began the program in 1990.
Now the Fisher House Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have identified the Portland VA Medical Center, which includes a Vancouver campus, as a good site for a Fisher House, said Shaun Benson, the local VA chief of volunteer services. The available land is at the Vancouver site, but frequent shuttle service connects it to the Portland hospital, Benson said.
About a year ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs invited interested medical centers to submit requests for a Fisher House, Benson said. Each center provided information including number of people treated, medical specialties and the area from which it draws patients. For Portland-Vancouver, Benson said, that includes Oregon, southern and eastern Washington, Alaska and, sometimes, the Midwest for patients who need organ transplants.
Veterans Affairs and the Fisher House Foundation accepted Portland-Vancouver's bid. Now a local volunteer board must raise about $1.5 million to match the funding that the foundation is providing, Benson said. As a federal agency, the VA cannot collect money for the foundation, he said. When the money is raised, the foundation will oversee construction. The VA will staff the home, but volunteers will assist in its operation.
The foundation will determine the size of the house, based on the number of patients and kinds of treatments typically offered, he said. Houses usually are designed for 12 or 22 families. They have common kitchens and living rooms but private bedrooms and bathrooms.
"It was like a really nice hotel," Murray said of her Fisher House stay in 2009, before her family relocated to La Grande. The children enjoyed baskets of toys, a playground and other activities, she said.
"I hope other families get the same opportunity I had," she said. "If I hadn't had that opportunity, I wouldn't have been able to be with my husband when he came home. For me, that was awesome."
Tina Kaiser of Camas almost stayed in a Fisher House in 2006 when her husband, Staff Sgt. John Kaiser, arrived at what was then known as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. However, casualties from Iraq were so numerous at the time, she said, that the house was full and she was given a hotel room near the Fisher House.
She is a supporter of the program, however, as a member of the Camas post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary. She and other post members regularly deliver household and personal hygiene items requested by guests at the Fisher House near Lewis-McChord. She also is backing the effort for a Portland-Vancouver house.
"This is the best way you can support the troops," Kaiser said. "It permits them to be with family. They heal so much better and so much faster if they can be around their families."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski