First Lady Dedicates New Fisher House at Bethesda
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 When servicemembers travel the road to medical recovery, families often must travel that road with them, First Lady Michelle Obama said today at the opening of a new Fisher House at the National Naval Medical Center here.
"When the nation's servicemen and women are called to serve, their families serve, too," Obama said. "Their sacrifice is their families' sacrifice, particularly when our servicemembers or veterans are sick, wounded and are struggling to get well again."
The concept of the Fisher House began 20 years ago by the parents of Zachary Fisher, who saw the need to provide a home so families could join their hospitalized and recovering soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines without the burden of hotel expenses and other obstacles. Since the first Fisher House was built on the expansive grounds of the medical center here, more than 130,000 families have been served and nearly 3 million days of lodging have saved family members nearly $100 million, the first lady said.
But those numbers don't even begin to capture the impact the Fisher Houses have had, she said.
"The late nights families have spent in those kitchens laughing, crying and praying together, the lifelong friendships they've maintained, and the gratitude and relief they feel knowing that wherever they are, they'll have a place to call home" are key in the success of Fisher House, she said.
"We know the sacrifices these folks are making,” she added, “putting their careers on hold, putting their own dreams aside and often working around the clock to care for those they love."
Noting that she has visited many Fisher Houses, Obama called the servicemembers and family members she has met during those visits "simply extraordinary.”
"No matter how badly they've been wounded, no matter how much pain they're in, they've refused to scale back their dreams," she said. "They're making plans. They're reimagining their futures. They tell me they're not just going to walk, but they're going to run again. They're going to run a marathon."
The first lady recalled Navy SEAL Lt. Jason "Jay" Redman, who was shot eight times while serving in Iraq and subsequently went through dozens of surgeries, 1,200 stitches and 15 skin grafts. He spent 73 days recovering at Fisher House, and posted a note to greet his hospital room visitors. When he left, Obama said, he donated his note, which says:
"To all who enter here: If you're coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received, I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the absolute, utmost that my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that about 20 percent further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere."
"As we open this house today," the first lady said, "that is the spirit we honor -- the spirit of resilience and healing, that spirit of patriotism and service."
It was that same spirit, she said, that moved Zachary Fisher's family to start Fisher House, even though neither of his parents ever served in the military.
The first lady noted President Barack Obama passed legislation earlier this year to provide assistance for wounded warrior care providers.
"This legislation is to make their jobs just a little bit easier," she said, by providing financial assistance, counseling, health insurance and respite care to those who need it most.
"This is the least we can do for these families," she said. "It is the least we can do for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe."
Obama told the small group of dignitaries, families and reporters that every American has an obligation to support hospitalized and recovering servicemembers.
"During this holiday season, especially, I hope that we all recommit ourselves to that critically important work," she said.
Each Fisher House accommodates 60 families, a White House source said. Two Fisher Houses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are scheduled to close next year when the hospital is relocated to the Bethesda campus, combining the military medical services into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.