USA — ‘Hero Miles’ Program Supports Families of Fallen, Wounded

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.

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

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