On June 3, 2014 at 1 p.m., ground will break on a very special place for the families of our country’s injured soldiers. Fisher House of Wisconsin will be located on the VA Medical Center grounds and will provide a "home away from home" for family members while a soldier receives medical care.
Fisher House Wisconsin has been in the works since 2006 and is slated to open in the summer 2015.
A joint effort of public and private entities, there is a dire need for this organization in the Milwaukee area. Over 8,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans travel to The Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center on an ongoing basis for treatment of their wounds and injuries.
Housing for loved ones while a wounded soldier is healing can be one of many logistical concerns, as well as a huge financial stress. The Fisher House removes this burden while providing a comfortable environment close to the where the injured soldier is being treated, so as to remove any excessive daily travel expenses as well.
Regina Erickson, a Milwaukee resident, stayed at Bethesda and Minneapolis / St.Paul Fisher Houses from November 2004 to March 2005 while her husband, SSgt. Chad Simon was being treated. She says the proximity of Fisher House to the hospital "was a godsend because I did not have my car there."
Fisher Houses provide a very unique level of emotional support to families, too.
"Being able to stay in the houses provided a community that you could access at your level of interest or need," says Erickson. "I connected with a woman whose husband was fairly severely injured. She was close to my age, so we shared a couple of meals together and as fellow Marine wives, we were able to share some of our experiences."
Erickson feels the resources that were provided to her and her family by Fisher House were vital.
"We needed to be able to be with people who knew what we were going through," she says. "It is a great place to stay for comfort and being able to quickly get to other resources that the VA provides. I appreciated the care that the VA had for my husband as a patient, but felt like the Fisher House was the place where we could really relax and process all that was happening."
Daily comforts that can be taken for granted make the difference for military families going through a medical crisis.
"Though we were there for somber circumstances, we had a beautiful, clean, well-run place to stay," says Erickson. "Not having to worry about payment and being able to wash my laundry and cook (if I felt like it) made us feel a lot less displaced."
(To learn more about Erickson’s story, please take a moment to view her video on YouTube.)
SFC Omar Hernandez fought under command of current Congressional Liaison of Veteran Affairs and Milwaukee’s own, Sgt. Brent Hibbard. Hernandez is presently receiving therapy for bilateral fractures of his legs and feet he sustained in Ghazni, Afghanistan after falling over 50 feet into a dried-up water well while dragging a wounded fellow soldier.
His family was quickly accommodated with "billets" by Fisher House Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) Fort Sam Houston, Texas while he had surgery which he says, "lifted a huge load of our shoulders since it was an emergency surgery and I needed them there."
The Fisher House Foundation will support most of the $6 million budget to build the house that will be over 13,000 square feet with 16 bedrooms that can accommodate up to eight people each. However, The Fisher House depends on private support from the community to help reach this goal.
The public is invited to the groundbreaking of the Fisher House Wisconsin on the grounds of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center just northwest of Lake Wheeler.
Additionally, there is a celebration event at Miller Park that includes admission to the Dew Deck to watch the Milwaukee Brewers take on the Minnesota Twins and more. Tickets have sold out through the Fisher House, but all are welcome to purchase any available Dew Deck tickets or regular tickets through the Brewers ticket office and join the celebration.
Miller Park is an especially appropriate venue for the event as starting catcher, Jonathan Lucroy is a fervent supporter of veterans and one of The Fisher House’s most public financial supporters.
Fundraisers like these are especially meaningful since 97 percent of every $1 donated goes directly to the cause. The next opportunity to participate in raising money and awareness for Fisher House Wisconsin will be a golf outing co-sponsored by Dickten Masch Plastics/TechniPlas and Baker Tilly on Aug. 18, at The River Club of Mequon.
Foursomes, corporate sponsorships and auction items are especially needed. Donations can also be made directly via the Fisher House website.
Both Erickson and Hernandez plan on staying involved with Fisher House Wisconsin. Erickson has some ideas of how to further comfort families in their time of need. She would like to be an ambassador, "for families to find and do some of the things they might like to do in and around Milwaukee and to encourage them to take a breather. Having someone to do that with can encourage families to take care of themselves while they are caring for and supporting their injured loved ones."
"I will always have a connection with Fisher House, wherever they may be. I will always try my hardest to find a way to help out," says Hernandez.
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