USA — First Lady Dedicates New Fisher House at Bethesda

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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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