OpEd: Rosemary Williams
Fisher Houses Help Bridge the Gap Between DoD and VA
When I first joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009, my husband who was a career Marine told me that public service would change my life. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how right he would be. During the almost eight years I served our military community, I was fortunate to lead organizations in both VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) and worked alongside both uniformed service members and the patriotic civilians in the federal workforce who support our military community.
We are fortunate to have a tremendous infrastructure that supports our service members, veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. Military spouses, for example, have difficulty maintaining a career track because of the frequent moves that comes with serving as a military family. DoD’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities provides military spouses with remarkable resources, from resume writing and access to more than 4 million jobs from companies who are dedicated to hiring military spouses, to scholarships for younger spouses to entrepreneurship webinars. I saw more than 100,000 military spouses empowered through employment since the program began five years ago, and it is still going strong.
With more veterans living remotely or unable to travel, VA has developed state-of-the-heart telehealth programs that allow for doctor’s visits through the technology of live video conferencing. VA leads the nation in telehealth and conducted more than 2.1 million medical appointments last year via live video from dermatology to mental health. I saw firsthand how well telehealth made healthcare easier, better, faster for the veteran and their family.
One thing that quickly became obvious during my service was that despite the wide array of programs and resources available to our military community, they aren’t enough to cover all the unique needs and requirements of our entire military community. Since 2012, 200,000 service members transition out of uniform each year, with the same number predicted for the next two years. Meanwhile, the operational tempo of our military continues at a pace that strains the infrastructure.
We are learning more and more about the impact of military service. There are studies that support the belief that service to the country is as much about wellness and resilience as it is about supporting the mission. VA and DoD have tremendously supportive programs for our military families and veterans whether during service, transition or after service. Nonetheless, there remains a gap between DoD and VA that I refer to as “the unsupported space.” Simply put, for all the tremendous work sponsored by the VA and DOD, the system does have limitations. For our wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans and their families and caregivers, transition and life after service can be far more challenging.
Enter Fisher House.
Fisher House helps to fill the gap with comfort homes located at or near military and VA medical centers nationwide, and there is never a lodging fee. Since inception, the program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $320 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation.
Fisher House also operates the Hero Miles program, using donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members as well as the Hotels for Heroes program using donated hotel points to allow family members to stay at hotels near medical centers without charge. Both programs also provide travel and hotels for survivors of the fallen, extended family members who unfortunately fall outside of eligibility for DoD-sponsored travel; aunts and uncles, girlfriends, or in-laws.
I have witnessed firsthand the comfort of a grieving family who finds solace in having all the family together during such a tragic time. Fisher House served more than 27,000 military families in 2016 and more than 307,000 since Fisher House first began in 1990.
This service to our nation that Fisher House provides lives and thrives in the unsupported space and is unmatched. Simply put, no other organization provides this unfettered support to our Nation’s heroes and their families, whether a WWII veteran or an Active Duty soldier and every hero in between. As you will see from the remarkable stories below of care, hope and recovery, Fisher House knows no boundaries when it comes to helping our military community. Fisher House doesn’t just provide a home-away-from-home when our military families need it most, Fisher House fills an important gap that the federal government cannot – serving the entire military community in their time of greatest need, without regard to where they are in their military life cycle and how that service impacts them.
Service certainly changed my life, but it is the service and support of the Fisher House that is truly changing the lives of our service members, veterans and their families during their time of need, those who have given so much to protect our freedom and democracy.