As more troops return from war zones needing long-term medical care, the Fisher House Foundation has shifted its focus on where to build houses that accommodate the wounded and their visiting families, officials said.

“We have made supporting servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, our No. 1 priority … which includes building Fisher Houses at medical centers where they’re going to be receiving their long-term care,” said Jim Weiskopf, foundation spokesman.

The nonprofit foundation founded in 1990 by philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher originally built houses only at military treatment facilities. Ten years ago, it expanded and built its first Department of Veterans Affairs facility house in Albany, N.Y. There now are six VA Fisher Houses, and a seventh near completion.

“The change for us at the VA is that the Fisher House Foundation has committed to adding houses at our facilities,” said Jill Manske, director of social work services at the VA.

“We’re beginning to see a lot of casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom being treated at our facilities, patients who are still on active duty, and their families are coming from long distances and need lodging,” Manske said.

A Fisher House is “a home away from home,” conceived to give families a place to stay while loved ones receive medical care. They feature private bedrooms and common kitchens, laundry facilities and dining and living rooms, and normally are located within walking distance of the treatment center or have transportation available.

About 8,500 families a year stay at the foundation’s 32 Fisher Houses. Two of them are at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the sole location outside of the United States.

The foundation’s firm to-build list of eight more facilities throughout the United States would place houses at military and VA medical treatment facilities that specialize in treating combat-related injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries, severe burns and paralysis.

“During peacetime, the largest group we take care of are retirees suffering from cancer and undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment,” Weiskopf said. “But gradually, over time and because of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that focus has changed to young soldiers … who at some point in time, do not need to occupy a hospital bed but need to go to the hospital every day.”

A VA facility Fisher House might be built in Richmond, Va., at the center that specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. “We haven’t even received a formal proposal, but we just know it’s coming,” Weiskopf said of the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.

Across the board, occupancy is at 90 percent or greater, but for those houses treating patients from Iraq and Afghanistan, occupancy is 100 percent with wait lists, Weiskopf said.

For those families, the average less than $10 a day fee is waived. And if the Fisher House is full, the foundation ensures the family does not pay to stay at an on-base facility, such as a Navy Lodge, or a local hotel, he said.

The houses do not take reservations, and individuals or families need to contact the manager of a specific Fisher House for arrangements. Each medical center commander or director sets eligibility criteria for their specific population, Weiskopf said.

New facilities

The Fisher House Foundation is turning its focus toward supporting the war wounded and their families. New facilities are in the pipeline.


A second Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Wash.Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa, Fla.Pending:

A third Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, TexasBlanchfield Army Community Hospital, Fort Campbell, Ky.Palo Alto VA Medical Center, Calif.Under study:

A second Naval Medical Center, San Diego, Calif.West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, Calif.Dallas VA Medical Center, TexasSource: Fisher House Foundation

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