Relief and Refuge: Military Family Fisher Houses

with Brian Gawne of the Fisher House Foundation

The financial burden associated with visiting a hospitalized military spouse away from home can present overwhelming challenges.

Brian Gawne of the Fisher House Foundation shares how his organization is improving the lives of military families through “comfort homes.”

Posted on:

Nov 04, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: In 2018, there were over 65,000 recorded hospitalizations of active-duty service members. Now, when a loved one is hospitalized far away from home, travel costs can cause financial hardship for families and friends. Hi, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. Joining me to discuss a program that's focused on providing housing for military families in time of need is Brian Gawne. He's the vice president of community relations for the Fisher House Foundation. Good to see you. Gawne: Great to be here, Paul. Lisnek: What important work you do. I'm going to start off by thanking you for your service because almost 29 years you flew for this country.

Gawne: It is my privilege.

Lisnek: So you go to Fisher House about nine years ago, over nine years ago. Talk to me about the work of Fisher House and what it's doing for these families. Gawne: Well, what Fisher House does, we build houses where the families of patients can stay when they're being treated at a V.A. or military medical center. We've got 84 houses across the country, plus houses in Landstuhl, Germany, big military base where they evacuated a lot of the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. And we even helped the U.K. build a Fisher House. Lisnek: And so is there a certain level of need that the service member has to have that will then make it authorize for the family members to come see them?
Gawne: Really the number-one prerequisite is they need [to be traveling to be there. So outside like a 40- or 50-mile radius [but just needs to be a patient that's being treated at that hospital, has a very serious injury that would merit family wanting to be by their bedside.

Lisnek: Now, there may be some folks watching us saying, "Yeah, that's really fantastic. I don't have the resources to get myself there." So a quick shout-out to how they might get there.

Gawne: Well, oftentimes, for military members, they may bring in the family, but when there is a member that's being treated someplace where they don't expect, maybe a military member's being treated at a university hospital or something like that, we can help with our Hero Miles programs or people donate their reward miles to us and then we use those to fly families to the bedside.

Lisnek: So in the future, I know there are plans 18, at least, additional Fisher Homes to be built. How is it determined where these things will get located?

Gawne: We work closely with the surgeon general of the services, as well as the Secretary of the V.A. They identify where the need is greatest, which major military medical centers, or which V.A. medical centers have people that travel for care, that have really important services, such as spinal rehab or cancer treatment and those type of things. Lisnek: It would also seem to me that having the family there is not a matter of, you know, "Hey, they're here. That's great." That has to be an important part of the treatment and the recovery is to have that emotional support.

Gawne: Absolutely. We say, you know, a family's love is the best medicine. You know, your loved one's in the hospital, you want two things. Number one, you want them to get the best possible medical care they can. Second, you want to be by their side. You don't want them alone. You know, a family member is an advocate. You know, they adjust the pillow. They tell them stories to get their mind off their pain, make sure they take their medicine. They alert the nurses. People heal quicker when they've got a loved one by their side.

Lisnek: When you look at the need moving forward, I know you do incredible work with Wounded Warriors, that program, but you and I were talking before and you had mentioned we need more help when it comes to the V.A. ] in general. Sort of talk about that distinction between Wounded Warriors and V.A. Gawne: We do serve active-duty military and particularly, you know, casualties. But we also, you know, military spouses get breast cancer, you know, children are born prematurely within the military system, but we have 6 million veterans that receive their healthcare through the V.A. system. Today we're at 35 locations, but there's over 130 major V.A. medical centers across the country. So we've got a long way to go to meet that need.

Lisnek: Is that a goal that you think -- I mean, one day, can we always service everybody? It almost seems that it is almost unfathomable to think of getting that.

Gawne: Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Lisnek: Yeah. Gawne: You know, our goal is that people travel to get their care. You think of -- Let's take, for example, there's a level 1 poly trauma, one of the top medical centers in the V.A. system in Minneapolis. So folks from all throughout the Midwest may travel there, you know, veterans to get their care. We have two Fisher Houses there because the need is so great. And, you know, they can stay there for free as long as their patient is receiving care and they're being active and helping them get better. They can stay there. You know, the average stay is five to nine days. The longest is four years for a spinal patient.

Lisnek: And when you say that, I'm thinking, to talk about this is sort of equating it to a hotel. That's really not the right comparison to make.

Gawne: It's a home really. I mean, you walk in the door, there's beautiful tile floors. We had a designer bring in artwork and handpick each piece of furniture. There's marble tiles. Every family has their own bedroom with an accessible shower and restroom. Pots, pans, comforters, linens, televisions, a common dining room. So the families can integrate and meet each other. Common kitchen, which becomes the social hub of that house. Lisnek: That's part of the healing, too, isn't it meeting other family members.

Gawne: They become a support network for each other. Paul, I understand your wife's over at the hospital. How is she doing? You just got back. You were at the hospital all day. I just cooked this pot of spaghetti. Why don't you join us for dinner?" And people make friendships, and it becomes a support network.

Lisnek: For people that want to reach you and assist in Fisher House, how do they do that?

Gawne: Well, the first thing I'd say, visit our website --, like organization. You can learn all about our programs, about our Fisher Houses, where we're building, our hero miles program or hotels for heroes where we do the similar thing with hotels and how they can donate and how they can volunteer.

Lisnek: All right. Thank you for the work you do. It's incredible stuff and so important. Brian Gawne from the Fisher House Foundation.] Appreciate it.

Gawne: Thanks, Paul.

Lisnek: And thank you for joining us as well. you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across our country, all you have to do is go to I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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