Vets’ families find compassion at home away from home

When veterans and active-duty military personnel need help, it’s very common for other veterans and service people to step up to lend their collective hands. Providing assistance to their fellow brothers and sisters is ingrained in the hearts and minds of America’s military culture.

And while it’s not totally out of the ordinary for nonmilitary men and women to step in and supply aid and comfort, there are some of them who have gone to great lengths to do so. While Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher have long since departed this world, their legacy of help and assistance continues to provide dividends for thousands of veterans — and of additional importance — their families.

Neither of the Fishers served in the military. They observed that injured military members had several methods of receiving medical attention from the government. But they also perceived that a very important adjacent need was not being met. When soldiers were being treated for wounds or illnesses at military hospitals or Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, it was often a hardship for their families to pay for travel expenses and high-quality temporary housing in order to visit their warriors. So the Fishers did something about it.

In 1991 they opened the first Fisher House at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Today, there are Fisher Houses across the nation where families can stay at no charge in private guest suites that are professionally decorated and furnished. Such amenities as common kitchens, spacious dining rooms, computer access and more are also provided.

In Southern Nevada, a Fisher House is located on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs clinic at Pecos Road and 215 Beltway.

Nevada’s Fisher House is under the care of manager Cadie Franco. She said that among other qualifications, those who are able to stay at the facility include immediate family — parents, children, sisters, brothers — and even caregivers. “Whoever their primary support person is,” she said.

While full-blown meals are not traditionally available, the Southern Nevada location makes partial exceptions.

“Because of our location, there’s not a lot of services nearby. So we do try to keep basic food supplies on hand,” Franco said.

Food is often donated, and groceries are purchased with donated funds. Community groups sometimes come in and prepare meals for residents. Groups include contingents from Nellis Air Force Base, Shadow Hills Church in Las Vegas and Wells Fargo.

Building the Fisher House was not an easy task. Many veterans groups worked with the VA to raise funds and convince the Fisher Foundation that the Las Vegas area (including Boulder City, of course) needed such a building. Before the current VA clinic was built, the largest qualified feeder medical facility would have been the Mike O’Callaghan Military Medical Center at Nellis. That hospital continues to have families of patients stay at Fisher House, along with families with relatives at the VA clinic.

Franco said one of the groups that was instrumental in bringing the facility to the Silver State was the Nevada Military Support Alliance. “They went to work raising the money necessary to have the (Fisher) trust foundation build the house here,” she said. “They reached their goal and got to the top of the list, and the house was built.”

The facility is operated by Franco and three other full-time employees, along with volunteers. Anyone who would care to volunteer can call Franco at 702-224-6789. Volunteers receive training at the VA clinic and provide a variety of services. Franco said they might be asked to give tours or bake treats in the modern kitchen for residents. Monetary donations are also appreciated.

To get a first-hand look at the facility, the community is invited to an annual open house each September. This year it’s from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23. Attendees will enjoy a free barbecue and entertainment.

The Fisher Foundation is operated by members of Zachary and Elizabeth’s family, who carry on the patriotic tradition of the founders. To quote the late Zachary, helping service members and their families is what drives the mission of Fisher House. He said the work and services provided is “Dedicated to our greatest national treasure … our military service men women and their loved ones.”

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.

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