Military families homes away from home: Fisher House

By Features FOXBusiness

Fisher Houses Groundbreaking Bronx, NY May 2017

Fisher House, a network of homes away from home for military families whose loved ones are receiving medical care, is celebrating its 25th year with the opening of its first New York City homes in the Bronx on the grounds of The James J. Peters VA Medical Center.

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With these new additions the nationwide network of Fisher Houses will number 80 and have saved military families over $330 million in out of pocket expenses for travel, lodging and basic expenses according to Ken Fisher, Chairman and CEO, of the Fisher House Foundation.

FOX Business talked with Fisher, who is also co-managing partner at Fisher Brothers, one of the country’s largest family-owned real estate development and management companies, about his mission to support military families in addition to veterans and active service members when they need it most.

FOX Business: Whether its health care or basic benefits, there are still many stories of sub-par care our nation’s veterans are receiving. What else needs to be done either by the government or philanthropists?

Ken Fisher: If we all function under the reality that these veterans and the people that wear our nation’s uniforms -- service men and women -- they make extraordinary sacrifices and so do their families. If we look at it as though these are debts we could never [fully] repay, but one of the ways we could repay it is to honor them by giving them the best that is possible. It is not just the government, we can all make a difference in this area.

FOX Business: The Fisher Houses began in 1990 by your Uncle Zachary, what inspired him to make this personal and financial commitment?

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Ken Fisher: It was more than just the desire to give back. We have the resources to be part of the solution, not just somebody who points out the problem. When it was brought to our attention that this very basic need really existed, my Uncle felt as though given his background in development and construction and access to architects this was a problem we could fill. It was really that basic.

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FOX Business: You work with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, who was appointed by President Trump, in selecting locations. What drove the decision to open your newest house in the Bronx?

Ken Fisher: The V.A. tells us where the greatest needs are. The two Bronx houses, which we broke ground on Thursday, are in close proximity of The James J. Peters VA Medical Center which is doing great, innovative work with paralyzed vets, kidney transplants, and PTS and TBI - as well as research.  It is a first-class VA hospital.

FOX Business: Running the network of Fisher Houses is a business in itself. What are some of the early entrepreneurial challenges your family encountered and ultimately overcame?

Ken Fisher: There were many challenges, Fisher House is beautiful in its simplicity. We do what we do very well. The biggest issue I had was running it like a business, keeping it lean and being able to pivot like we did during the government shutdown in 2013. We offered to pay military death benefits when the government stopped. Everyone at Fisher House has the same passion and desire to keep the foundation pointed in the right direction. Our donors are treated like shareholders and their dividends are the metrics of what the program has accomplished.

FOX Business: Supporting U.S. veterans was a cornerstone of President Trump’s presidential campaign and he continues with that message. In the new budget outline, the President is proposing a boost of over $6 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs, to $186.5 billion. How should these additional funds be deployed in your opinion?

Ken Fisher: The V.A. has very dedicated doctors and nurses and the care that they give is really first class, world class. I’d like to see some money put into the facilities that are older, that are doing great work, like the Bronx. I haven’t done deep dive on the V.A. so can’t speak to where the greatest needs are right now.

FOX Business: What’s ahead for Fisher House?

Ken Fisher: Number one, we want to keep the program growing as is. We stay in our lane we don’t try and be all things to all people. We honor the donated dollar and we’ll continue to do that -- $0.94-$0.95 on the dollar goes towards the program, so we operate very efficiently. That is something I want to keep going.

We have also become involved with family adaptive sports, that is something we’ll continue to do this year by sponsoring the ‘Warrior Games’.  [The event will be held in Chicago June 30-July 8 is an opportunity for seriously injured, wounded and ill service members compete in a spirited competition.] We also want to keep our “Hero Miles” program going (which is donated frequent flier miles). We have a program were we can buy miles for family members and care givers to go back and forth, because life doesn’t stop for these men and women when their loved one is in the hospital.

*Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Suzanne O’Halloran is Managing Editor of FOXBusiness.com and a graduate of Boston College. Follow her on @suzohalloran