By Steven Donald SmithJanuary 16, 2007
The Fisher House Foundation will expand its efforts to help injured U.S. troops and their families by building five new comfort homes per year until 2010, the foundation's chairman said last night on CNN's "Larry King Live."
"These are families that make sacrifices. This program is designed to help them," Ken Fisher said.
The foundation builds homes on and near active military and Veterans Affairs medical facilities. The houses provide free lodging for servicemembers who must stay near a hospital for continuing treatment, as well as families visiting wounded loved ones.
The work done by the Fisher House Foundation was featured for the entire hour on last night's "Larry King Live." Clips of King and his crew visiting patients at the Fisher House in San Diego last week were shown throughout the program. King also interviewed servicemembers and their families who are currently at other Fisher House locations or have stayed at one previously.
Army Staff Sgt. Harold Ord, whose right ankle and lower leg were shattered by a mortar round last year in Iraq, talked about his appreciation for the Fisher House at Fort Campbell, Ky., where he is receiving treatment. "It's a great organization and it's great thing to have," Ord said. "We probably would have had a rough time without it. It's helped out a lot of people."
The foundation was started in 1990 by Ken's late uncle, Zack Fisher. When it was brought to Zack's attention that there was a shortage of affordable housing for injured servicemembers and their families, he decided to put the program together, Ken Fisher said.
Zack Fisher built the first comfort homes with his own money. "Zack always believed that it was our obligation to give back to a nation that had been so great to us," Ken Fisher said. "Zack always considered them (servicemembers) to be the greatest national treasure."
Today, there are 36 Fisher House facilities in 16 states and one in Germany. After the houses are built, they are gifted to U.S. government, which then maintains them. Fisher said the foundation works closely with the military to determine where a new house should be built.
"The beauty part of the house is that the families will sit together, they'll eat together, it has become a support network in the house," Fisher said. "It's not just families having a place to sleep, it's getting together and supporting each other on a bad day and sharing the joy on a good day."
Actor Gary Sinise, star of the hit CBS program "CSI: New York," joined King via satellite feed. Sinise said he has been involved with the Fisher House Foundation since 2003. "Fisher Houses are doing amazing, amazing work," he said. "I can't say enough about these folks and their dedication to helping our wounded and supporting our families."
Sinise and his music group, the Lt. Dan Band, named after the character he played in the movie "Forrest Gump," have played more than 40 shows for troops stationed in the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan. They will next perform at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center Jan. 27.
"It's rewarding to know that I can give back to these people who are volunteers, and who go out and defend our country," Sinise told King. "They're making a lot of sacrifices for us. And their families do as well."
Sinise, like the Fisher House Foundation, is an active member of the "America Supports You" program, a Defense Department program showcasing the ways Americans are supporting the nation's troops. In addition, Sinise co-founded "Operation Iraqi Children," an organization that collects and ships school supplies and toys to Iraq.
Country music singer Wynonna Judd also appeared on last night's program. "I think there's nothing more important than support in a time of illness," she said.
Judd has performed at many military bases and medical facilities. "My job is to enlighten and lift up the spirits of these people who put their butts on the line every day so my family is free," she said.
Denise Mettie, who is staying at the Fisher House near Palo Alto, Calif., praised the foundation for giving her a place to stay while her son Evan gets treatment for severe injuries he received in Iraq. "Fisher House is a godsend," she said.
Army Staff Sgt. Ross Graydon, his wife Jamie and daughter Brittney, 10, appeared on the show from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Graydon lost his left arm while serving in Iraq.
Jamie said Fisher House has been like a home away from home while her husband gets treatment. "It's nice and very comfortable," she said. "Everybody is friendly, so you have a nice internal support system working for you."
Ken Fisher said seeing the Graydon family reinforced the reason the foundation does what it does. "This is exactly why we do what we do. To see the three of them together and wonder what it would have been like had they not been able to there," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling to see them together."
CNN will auction off a Humvee nicknamed "Warrior One" to benefit the Fisher House Foundation Jan. 20. The vehicle was used by some of the network's correspondents during the Iraq war, but was completely refurbished during a recent episode of TLC's "Overhaulin.'" Barrett-Jackson Auction Co., a classic car auction house, will auction the vehicle at its headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.