America Supports You: Fisher House Distributes Airline Tickets
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2005 The Fisher House organization uses more than a million frequent flyer miles per week in distributing free round-trip airline tickets to families of war-wounded servicemembers being treated in military and Veterans Affairs medical facilities across the country.
To date, the program has distributed more than 4,000 tickets, using more than 150 million frequent flyer miles, Jim Weiskopf, vice president of communications for the nonprofit Fisher House Foundation, said.
He said the foundation's general fundraising, including money received from the Combined Federal Campaign, to pay airport security fees, taxes and administrative fees on the tickets so there is no charge to the families.
Fisher House gets the millions of frequent flyer miles through "Operation Hero Miles," a program that took off in 2004 after U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland convinced U.S. airlines to provide free round-trip airline tickets for servicemembers arriving daily from Iraq and Afghanistan for rest-and-recuperation leave. Ruppersberger challenged the airlines to start the program because he was concerned about placing a financial burden on servicemembers.
The program has been expanded to wounded servicemen and women being treated at major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country. Those who have approved convalescent leave may be given a free round-trip airline ticket to visit loved ones if they're not eligible for government-funded airfare. Family members are also eligible for the free tickets.
The unused frequent flyer miles come from private and corporate donations.
The tickets are distributed through the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that builds homes near and on the grounds of large military and Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Recuperating servicemembers who must be near a hospital for continuing treatment and families visiting loved ones in the hospital can stay in the homes at no cost.
Requests for tickets have to originate from a servicemember and must be forwarded to Fisher House by a hospital social work staff member, family assistance center or service casualty office.
"All we want to know is the reason for the hospitalization, and we don't make any distinction whether it was combat related, training accident or sports injury if they're hospitalized due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan," Weiskopf said.