Fisher House Explains Rules for Free Airline Tickets
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2004 Although the Defense Department provides a travel entitlement for service members and their families in serious medical emergencies, the Fisher House Foundation is hoping to help those service members and families not covered under the rule.
Through a program the foundation joined in December called Operation Hero Miles, the Fisher House hopes to give away hundreds of free airline tickets to help reunite service members hospitalized due to their service in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and their family members.
The Fisher House Foundation is best known for its network of 32 comfort homes that provide a place to stay for families of patients receiving care at military major medical centers and Veterans Affairs medical centers. The comfort homes are located throughout the country and overseas.
Foundation spokesman Jim Weiskopf said the tickets, donated by Anheuser-Busch, are available to service members undergoing treatment, as either an in- or outpatient at military and VA medical facilities as a result of their service in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding area.
There are two categories of eligible recipients for the free airline tickets:
-- Qualifying service men and women may be given a free round-trip airline ticket for a trip from the medical center to their home and return if they are not eligible for government-funded airfare.
-- Qualifying service men and women may be given free round-trip tickets to enable their family or close friends to visit them while they are being treated at the medical center.
Currently, all donated tickets are for flights marketed or operated by American Airlines, American Eagle and American Connection. The flights do carry some restrictions, including 14-day advance purchase, a Saturday night stay, a maximum stay of 30 days, and blackout dates.
Tickets are for travel in economy class, and seats may be limited. No changes can be made after the ticketing departure date, and changes made before the departure date are subject to a $100 service charge.
The foundation cannot assist with local travel, overnight accommodations, meals or other expenses.
Weiskopf emphasized that requests for tickets must originate with the service member, and must be made at the medical center. He said the requests should be sent by fax to the Fisher House Foundation (301) 294-8562. A copy of the request form can be obtained at the foundation's Web site.
The Hero Miles program began in September out of concern that hundreds of service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan on rest and recuperation leave faced huge travel costs to get to their home destinations. Federal law prohibited the military from paying for domestic personal travel for service members or their families upon arrival in the United States or their home military installation.
However, news of war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan on R&R leave and not having enough money to pay for follow-on flights home, along with public response to the issue, helped persuade Congress to change the law.
Beginning Jan. 1, the Pentagon began paying for domestic flights to their home destination for service members on R&R leave from overseas.
Meanwhile, in an effort to continue the program, Weiskopf said the Fisher House Foundation is accepting airline tickets or vouchers from donors if the ticket can be transferred to another passenger.
At present, the foundation cannot accept frequentflier miles. Individuals and organization wanting to donate miles should do so through the Operation Hero Miles Web site.