Effort gives families of ailing vets a place to stay

Facility for kin of those getting medical care far from home will be built on Vancouver VA campus

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter




Fundraising pancake breakfast 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Hazel Dell Applebee’s, 816 N.E. 98th Circle; $2.50 of the $7 price will go to a Fisher House in Vancouver.

For tickets or to make donations to the local Fisher House, call 360-573-6225.

An effort is under way to provide a home away from home in Vancouver for families of veterans receiving medical care in this area.

A year ago, the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center — which includes a Vancouver campus — was chosen by the National Fisher House Foundation and the Department of Veterans Affairs as a housing site.

The houses are built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. They serve families of veterans and active service members who must often travel great distances for specialized medical care.

The Portland VA medical center serves veterans from across the Pacific Northwest and it's a national referral center for veterans who need liver and kidney transplants, said Dan Herrigstad, spokesman for the Portland VA Medical Center.

"Our patients often travel great distances for this specialized medical care. This home would enable family members to be close to their loved ones at the most stressful times. Having family near and involved is a key part of the recovery process," Herrigstad said.

The Portland VA will provide the land for the facility on the southeast corner of the Vancouver campus. The size has not been determined.

"We need to raise $1.5 million locally and the Fisher House Foundation will match those contributions to build the planned facility," Herrigstad said.

The Columbia River Marine Corps League Auxiliary is part of the fundraising effort, which includes a pancake breakfast Saturday at the Hazel Dell Applebee's.

Debbie Bruns, senior vice president of the auxiliary league, called the Fisher House system "a godsend for veterans and their families."

The group "will be having other fund-raisers, and we won't be the only one," Bruns said.

When built, Fisher Houses are given to the government. The Portland VA would be responsible for its operation and maintenance.

A local volunteer board must be formed to oversee a nonprofit group. People interested in participating should contact Shaun Benson, the Portland VA medical center's chief of voluntary service, at Shaun.Benson@va.gov or 503-273-5042. VA employees are not allowed to be members of these boards.

The closest Fisher House is at Madigan Army Medical Center, just south of Tacoma. There are nearly 60 Fisher Houses around the U.S., plus one in Germany.

The program is similar to the system of Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide housing for families of hospitalized children.

In 2011, the Fisher Houses served more than 17,000 families.

The houses are named for philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, who helped start the program.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.