‘Hero Miles’ Program Supports Families of Fallen, Wounded
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BETHESDA, Md., Jan. 5, 2011 A popular program that turns donated frequent-flyer miles into free airline tickets for wounded warriors receiving medical care as well as their families will expand this year so families of the fallen and combat wounded can participate in two upcoming events.
The Fisher House Foundation, which administers the “Hero Miles” program, plans to offer airline tickets so grieving families needing assistance can fly to Washington, D.C., this Memorial Day weekend to participate in the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors seminar, foundation President Dave Coker told American Forces Press Service.
The annual conference, to run May 27 to 30, offers a camp for children, a workshop for adults and comfort for families whose military member died in service to the nation, regardless of the cause.
“We will use Hero Miles to bring in any families that need assistance, and eliminate the cost of getting to [Washington,] D.C. as a barrier,” Coker said.
In addition, the Hero Miles program will help families to attend the second annual Warrior Games held in the spring in Colorado Springs, Colo., Coker said.
Some 200 disabled active-duty servicemembers and military veterans will compete in the second annual Warrior Games, scheduled for May 16 to 21 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Participants will put their long recuperations and months of training to the test as they go for the gold in events to include shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, officials said.
Coker called it fitting that the Hero Miles program helps families who might otherwise not get the opportunity to participate in these events.
“Our goal is to eliminate the barriers to participation, and make sure that families who wish to attend these events can do so,” he said.
The Fisher House Foundation has been underwriting all administrative costs and ticketing charges for the Hero Miles program since 2005. The Hero Miles program provides a way for passengers of participating airlines to donate their unused frequent-flier miles to reunite military men and women undergoing treatment at a military or Veterans Affairs medical center with their families.
The program provides free round-trip airline tickets to two categories of passengers. Servicemembers on at least five days of approved leave from their medical center who don’t qualify for government-funded airfare can receive tickets home and back. In addition, qualified servicemembers may receive tickets to enable their family or close friends to visit them while they’re treated at the medical center.
To date, the program has provided more than 21,000 airline tickets -– valued at more than $27 million -- to combat veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, Coker said.
Coker marveled at the generosity of people who donate their frequent-flyer miles to support the program.
“The miles have no intrinsic value, and [donors] aren’t getting a tax deduction for donating the miles,” he said. “They are doing it because they want to support the military.”
For as little as $5, or more typically, $10, the program can provide free airline tickets to servicemembers or families that otherwise might cost them about $1,400, Coker said.
“So this is a tremendous way that we can have a huge impact,” he added.