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									Families scrape by while vets get care
Group struggles to finance housing near VA hospital

11:26 PM CDT on Monday, July 3, 2006


By GRETEL C. KOVACH / The Dallas Morning News


Kelly Allen looked into her father's frightened eyes and made him a promise.

"Daddy, I will never leave you," she assured him, even if she had to sleep in her car.

Ms. Allen has cared for the Air Force veteran since a car accident left him a quadriplegic 20 years ago.
After Wiley Capps' lungs failed in the spring, the 70-year-old was flown to intensive care.

There, at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the 41-year-old Cooper, Texas, woman has kept
her promise. She slept the first few nights on a lounge chair. For the last two months, home has been a
hospital room.

It's an uncomfortable existence familiar to many military families, one that a group of retired veterans is
trying to change. They want to raise $1.25 million to build a Fisher House – a "home away from home" to
be near ailing elderly veterans or young troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The North Texas fundraisers had a slow start and a discouraging string of rejection letters in the last year.
They hope a baseball field at the hospital will one day be replaced by a house with a communal kitchen
and home-cooked support from veterans' families. They plan to use matching funds from a national
program to help pay for the project.

"An important part of anyone's recovery is how they get the support they need," said retired Marine Corps
Lt. Gen. Richard E. Carey, 78, of Rockwall. "The best thing you can do is be there with them, and this
provides the wherewithal to do that."

Gen. Carey became a strong admirer of the program after visiting a Fisher House at Brooke Army
Medical Center in San Antonio, where some of the most severely wounded troops who fought overseas
are treated.

When he was 17, he slept in his car at a veterans hospital to be near his father, a World War I veteran
who had been gassed by German forces.

Most people do support the troops, Gen. Carey said. "But they don't know how they can show their
appreciation. This is how."

Good medicine

The Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit group created by New York real estate executive Zachary
Fisher, formed in 1990 to provide free or low-cost housing within walking distance of military medical
centers.

There are 35 Fisher Houses today serving 8,500 families each year, including at least one at every major
military medical center in the country.

The San Antonio area has five Fisher Houses and two more in the works. El Paso has one, and Fort
Hood has another.
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Fisher House in Houston, the largest in the country and the
first in Texas not serving active-duty forces, has been full almost every day since it opened in April 2005,
said manager Frank Kelley.

He said the Fisher House motto – a family's love is good medicine – has been the right prescription for
Houston-area veterans.

"It gives them the support from other folks who are going through a similar experience," he said. "And the
veterans can concentrate on just getting better."

Houston raised its share of the Fisher House funds in 38 days. But after more than a year of fundraising,
the 17-member Dallas advisory group had, until last week, pulled in just $75,000.

The Dallas VA hospital, which draws veterans from nearby states to its spinal-care unit and serves 1,200
Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, is marked with a red exclamation point by the Fisher House
Foundation as having a "recognized need."

Allen Clark began pushing for a Fisher House in Dallas in 2003 before he retired as the Dallas VA
hospital spokesman. He was particularly moved by the struggles of the 20-year-old wife of an Iraq war
veteran who had been shot in the face.

She cared for their two babies at a nearby budget motel while her husband was treated for months on
end at the Dallas facility for spinal cord injuries.

"We're not professional fundraisers, just good old boys who love the military," Mr. Clark said. "We had no
earthly idea it would be like pulling teeth to raise money in this community."

Sting of rejection

Richard Agnew, chairman of the advisory committee, said they've been rejected by 11 major foundations
and businesses, including several defense contractors based in North Texas.

"It irks me when these young men, some of them 18, 19 years old, go over there and volunteer to
preserve the comforts this nation is used to, and these large corporations turn their backs," Mr. Agnew
said.

Finally, last week, the first substantial pledge – a $100,000 donation by a major Dallas foundation –
stirred their hopes.

One of the most touching donations came from a young lieutenant preparing to return to Iraq for his
second yearlong deployment. The Garland resident, who asked not to be named, responded to Mr.
Clark's query to the West Point Society of North Texas by sending a $200 check.

Mr. Clark tried to read a note of support from the young platoon leader but became too choked with
emotion. Mr. Agnew, who had once been left for dead by enemy forces on a Korean battlefield, continued
in a shaky voice.

"I lose sleep at night thinking about how I can balance protecting these soldiers while ensuring we get the
job done," the lieutenant's e-mail said.

"I let them know that I care about them by ensuring they are well trained and equipped, by keeping myself
tactically sound, and by ensuring they know that their families will be cared for should anything happen to
them."

Jerry Scott, an 82-year-old World War II paratrooper from Carrollton, is helping spread the word. He was
in and out of the hospital four times before he was sent home from the European front.
"Good God, we're breaking our neck to try to do it. Right now it's just nickels and dimes. We've got to get
the money," he said. "It's a respite for these poor folks. These families don't have resources. They're just
plain people."

Filling a need

After the Fisher House is built, it will be given to the VA to run. Susan Poff, a spokeswoman for the Dallas
VA hospital, said the facility would fill a vital need for the area.

"Your life is already in turmoil because you have a family member in the hospital," she said. "And there's
a feeling sometimes that I'm the only one who's going through this."

The long-term care unit at the Dallas VA hospital hosted a Fourth of July parade last week to entertain
patients. Mr. Capps visited with his favorite Heart of Texas Therapy Dog, a long-eared black spaniel that
marched in the parade adorned with a red, white and blue bandanna.

Mr. Capps wheezes on his ventilator, but he'll keep smiling, he said, as long as his family is by his side.

"You don't find many daughters like that," he said, as Ms. Allen fussed with the oxygen monitor clamped
to his finger.

Ms. Allen has her own health problems and uses a wheelchair for longer walks. She and her husband,
James Allen, who also lives at the hospital, sent their two youngest children to stay with relatives.

"I live on peanut butter crackers," Ms. Allen said. "I'd love to have a place to wash my clothes ... a shower
... a place to cook."

If the Allens had a home at a Fisher House, they said, they could focus on what's most important –
helping "Daddy" heal.

                                             How to Help

                                     Send your contribution to:

          Fisher House at Dallas Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas
                                  Account # 05434
                                 5500 Caruth Haven
                               Dallas, TX 75225-8146

								
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