'Thank you not enough' for veterans, says Fisher House CEO
October 8, 2009
By Erika Wonn
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Kenneth Fisher reached out to veteran organizations and community members in a call to action Wednesday, asking them to do more than just thank wounded warriors.
The Association of the United States Army honored Fisher, chairman of the board of trustees and chief executive officer of the Fisher House Foundation, with its highest award, the 2009 George C. Marshall Medal.
"It's a sense of great pride that I have been entrusted with overseeing an organization that has such an impact on young lives," said Fisher in his acceptance speech at the dinner which ended this year's AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition.
"And I honor and I respect that trust every day," Fisher added.
Fisher accepted the award on behalf of the volunteers, the community and all of the doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who do work caring for veterans and Soldiers. He also thanked the donors for being the lifeblood of the program and its mission.
Fisher's late uncle Zachary Fisher started the Fisher House Program 19 years ago, after a need was brought to light for temporary housing of family members when servicemembers were hospitalized.
The foundation has 43 houses now with at least one house near every military medical facility in the United States. It houses more than 10,000 families free of cost to the family. To date, the Fisher House Foundation has made available more than 3 million days to military families.
Fisher said the foundation dedicates everything they do to the nation's military and their families.
"Our service to them is a credit on the ledger that we can never balance," the Fisher House CEO said, "We owe them literally more than we can ever pay."
In his speech, he said that veterans should know that their sacrifice is never ignored, and that their wounds -- whether mental or physical -- will be healed.
"Too many of us in this room remember a time when those in uniform and returning veterans were greeted not with cheers and handshakes, but with indifference, disrespect, and even contempt," Fisher said to the audience.
Though much has changed, and veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are welcomed home with open arms, Fisher contested that there's a long road to go by way of caring and honoring the men and women who answered the call to arms.
"We are united in saying to the bravest among us thank you for your service," he said. "Thank you for our service is just not enough anymore.
Fisher said that although the deployed setting is stressful for servicemembers, it is much worse when they return home, especially after sustaining a life-threatening injury.
Soldiers suffering a critical injury have a 95 percent chance of survival, but that doesn't mean that their path to recovery will be easy, Fisher said. The road to recovery is long and arduous, and equally if not more so for families, he added.
Through the Fisher House Foundation, families are given the opportunity to stay close to their wounded warrior, he said, and assist in their recovery without having to stress about extensive financial responsibilities, including housing.
"Our obligation to our newest veterans will last for decades and remain critically important," Fisher said of the road ahead. He emphasized how the community needs to "not just say something, but to do something" for the new and future wounded veterans and their families.
Fisher also called on organizations to get together for one agenda, and stop fighting each other for turf when it comes to veteran care.
"Philanthropic organizations need to spend more on programs and not promotion," Fisher said. "In the DoD and VA, ways must be found to streamline a system that is suffocating under the weight of its own bureaucracy."
An issue Fisher was extremely passionate about was healthcare for veterans. "The backburner is no longer acceptable," he said.
In the future, the Fisher House Foundation will continue to assist military veterans and families rebuild their lives, he promised. The foundation plans on adding 12 houses in 2009.
"In these very tough times, they don't quit on themselves," Fisher said about veterans, "and neither should we."