Why I'm Fighting for Fisher House in Congress

06/18/2015 02:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016

No military or veteran family should have to choose between paying their bills and being together while one of our nation's heroes is in the hospital. Our national values demand that we assist the families of our men and women in uniform, especially at the time of their greatest need. That's why I'm proud to support the Fisher House Foundation, which has helped service members and veterans receiving hospital care be with their families for over two decades. In facilities around the country, Fisher House provides free lodging for families who have a loved one in the hospital.

During consideration of the Department of Defense budget in the House of Representatives, I introduced an amendment to double federal support for Fisher House. My amendment would allow Fisher House to build new facilities, and provides for a fiscally-responsible increase in funding, fully paid for as part of the defense budget. The Fisher House measure was adopted with bipartisan support and included in the final bill, which passed the House on June 11.

I've pushed for increased funding for Fisher House each of the last three years and will continue to do so because Fisher House is serving a tremendous need. Many of the patients in military and veterans hospitals require long stays, which can place a large financial hardship on families who don't live near the hospital, which is very common. That's where Fisher House comes in, providing families with lodging near the hospital that is always 100 percent free.

For the last 25 years, Fisher House has made a difference for families in need. Since 1990, over 250,000 families have been helped by Fisher House, receiving over five million days of lodging. Last year, over 25,000 families were served at the 65 Fisher Houses in operation. The Fisher House Foundation builds and operates these homes, creating a permanent asset that can be used for years.

The organization's homes provide families with apartment-style lodging, with suites that include a kitchen, laundry facilities a living room and toys for children. Most homes are within walking distance of the hospital.

Our veterans and service members are known for their strength, but when they're recovering from an operation or receiving emergency care, that strength can depend on seeing a spouse, talking with the kids or just knowing that loved ones are by their side. It isn't difficult to imagine what a difference keeping families together can make. For families of veterans and service members receiving care for combat injuries, the average length of stay at a Fisher House is two-months, while for others the average length of stay is 10 days.

Fisher House is a beloved institution in the military community and is highly-rated by third party evaluators. Fisher House has an A+ rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy and has been given four out of four stars by Charity Navigator. The organization also operates the Hero Miles and the Hotels for Heroes programs, which allow individuals to donate their flight or hotel points to service members and their families.

Fisher House would like to build nine new homes across the country to accommodate increased demand. We've completed the first step by increasing support in the House Defense bill, but more work remains to be done as the Senate continues the appropriations process. I will continue to urge my colleagues in both chambers to support this increase and am hopeful it will be included in whatever spending agreement ultimately heads to the President's desk.

Of course, Fisher House is just one small piece of the puzzle. We must take more steps to improve health care for veterans, smooth their transition to civilian life and increase their job opportunities. Fundamentally, it is all about making sure that veterans receive the benefits they've earned by virtue of their incredible service to our country. Earlier this year, I signed onto the Veterans' Bill of Rights, a document meant to galvanize support for veterans and spur improvements in service at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The good news is that progress is being made. In response to unacceptable wait times and mismanagement at the VA, Congress passed major reform legislation that expands health care options, provides new funding for treatment and medical staff and makes sure that poor-performing employees are held accountable. In addition to these measures, I've cosponsored the Real Choice for Veterans Act, a bipartisan bill to revise and expand the Veterans Choice Program, giving more veterans access to private health care options.

Speaking with Maryland veterans, it is clear that claims processing at the Baltimore VA, the office used by the majority of Maryland veterans, remains much too slow. In fact, that office has had some of the slowest processing times in the country. I've joined my colleagues in the Maryland delegation in speaking out about what's happening in Baltimore and we're going to keep the pressure on the office until service improves. Any Maryland veteran who needs help receiving their benefits should contact my office immediately; we have caseworkers at the ready.

In the last two months I've hosted veterans' constituent services workshops in Hagerstown and Germantown, meeting with veterans one-on-one and connecting them with staff from the VA and state and local agencies. Spending time with veterans, you quickly are reminded that military service isn't just about individuals, it's about families. Families serve and families sacrifice, all for our country. Fisher House helps keep military and veteran families together and that's why I'm committed to keep working to strengthen support for the organization and for the men, women, and families who've served our country.