This Thanksgiving Americans everywhere will be opening fold-out couches, blowing up air mattresses, and laying sleeping bags on the floor to accommodate visiting relatives. Sometimes you have less than ideal accommodations and sometimes you just have to make do.
But sometimes you deserve the best and nothing less. One of those times is when you are a wounded veteran seeking medical care.
Each year, more than 63,000 veterans of the United States military seek medical treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California.
As one of the largest and most medically advanced VA facilities in the Western U.S. and Pacific Rim, it serves veterans with a range of medical needs, from cancer treatment to traumatic brain injury, amputation, spinal cord injury and polytrauma. Veterans who receive outpatient treatment at the VA hospital travel from all over the Western United States and as far away as Guam, Alaska, and the Hawaiian Islands.
When added to the stress of expensive and long distance travel, medical appointments can become incredibly difficult for these veterans.
Financial constraints and expensive hotel rates in the Palo Alto area have forced some veterans to stay in substandard accommodations. Many skipped their appointments, surgeries and rehabilitation sessions due to high costs of accommodations, while others slept in their cars or in the waiting rooms in order to make their much needed medical appointments.
In 2011, more than 15,000 patients had to find temporary housing.
The existing outpatient lodging facility on the VA campus failed to meet the building compliance requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Fire Administration. For veterans with impaired mobility, this ADA non-compliance only served to remind them of their physical problems and hurt their chances of successful recovery.
As our nation's heroes fight to recover, they should not have to face the additional stress resulting from poor lodging and financial burdens. These men and women have served our country in times of war and in peace, from World War II to the present. Now they need our help.
Through a unique public-private partnership, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation) joined with the Department of Veterans Affairs to build the new Lee and Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge, a $17 million free hotel for veterans undergoing medical care at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Hospital.
As part of a partnership with the VA, the PenFed Foundation is raising $11 million in private donations to pay for construction of the hotel.
Set to welcome guests in 2014, the Defenders Lodge will serve as the nation's largest free hotel for veterans undergoing medical care providing more than 20,000 free nights of stay each year for more than 15,000 veterans and their caregivers.
Located just across the parking lot from the Palo Alto VA hospital, guests staying at the Defenders Lodge will receive a wide range of outpatient services including counseling, physical therapy, medical treatments, testing, recreation, and various support services.
At over 34,000 square feet, the lodge features 52 first-class rooms and 104 beds, a family room with a fireplace, an upgraded kitchen, an activity room, a laundry room, an open-air atrium, and a library stocked with books. The entire project from the ground up takes accessibility into account. All doorways and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Members of the military know a lot about subpar sleeping arrangements. They've slept on old Army bunks and in muddy trenches. But now that they are back they deserve the best we can give them and that's first-class accommodations.
Christopher J. Flynn is president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization working to meet the unmet financial needs of military personnel and their families. PenFed (Pentagon Federal Credit Union) covers all labor expenses for the foundation so nearly every dollar donated goes directly to supporting its programs. To learn more, visit www.penfedfoundation.org.