Marine Corporal Matthew Bradford lost both of his legs and eyesight in combat. Once he returned to the United States, he faced a long and grueling rehabilitation. His family stayed in a Fisher House for a long time, which saved his life and his family from financial ruin.
Cpl. Bradford knows the critical role a Fisher House plays for military and Veterans’ families, so he serves as one of the board members for Friends of Lexington Fisher House. As President and Chairman Tom Kenny explained, Veteran Affairs (VA) contacted the National Fisher House Foundation because of the need for a Fisher House in Lexington. The National Fisher House Foundation agreed that the need was great in Lexington and thus the project was born.
The Lexington VA Health Care System is a 43-county area in central and eastern Kentucky, home to an estimated 90,000 Veterans and some of the poorest counties in the nation. The Lexington Fisher House will accept guests who live at least 50 miles from Lexington, but as Tom explained, exceptions can and will be made.
“Many Veterans’ families will come from low income areas in eastern Kentucky, so we want to remove that tremendous burden by providing a free place to stay for Veterans’ families,” Tom said. “Fisher House is not a dormitory or a hotel, but a warm, comforting house that allows families to be close to their loved one during a medical crisis and focus on what’s important – the healing process.”
After VA approached Tom, an anchor for WTVQ, the ABC affiliate in Lexington, to lead the capital campaign to raise money to build a Fisher House, Friends of Lexington Fisher House was established.
Tom has seen the tremendous need for a Fisher House in Lexington, so his answer was “yes” before he was even asked to get involved. He has seen families sleeping in their cars at VA Medical Centers because they couldn’t afford a hotel room. Tom’s late father was also a disabled World War II Veteran, so he grew up seeing a devoted patriot.
“The war took something from my father, but he never complained,” Tom said.
“I have been heavily involved in serving Veterans and Veteran causes my entire adult life. It’s the least I can do because, how do you truly thank someone who has given you everything?”
Plans for the Lexington house include being built to the left of the main entrance of the newly renamed Franklin R. Sousley Campus on Leestown Road. Once the house is built, it will be gifted to VA, so it then becomes a federal building. VA will be in charge of staffing and operating the house, but there will be a full-time house manager, facilities manager and social workers. The Lexington Fisher House will have 16 private suites with a common kitchen, dining room, living room, playroom and laundry room. It will be 13,000 square feet and cost approximately $6.5 million to build. The hope is to break ground in 2020 or 2021, but that will be dictated by fundraising efforts.
“This is not a Tom Kenny project or a VA project, this is an American project,” Tom said. “Kentucky veterans’ families need a Fisher House. The need is great, and the difference this house will make in veterans’ families lives is real.”
The Lexington Veterans Affairs Health Care System (HCS) helps Veterans by providing low cost or no cost health care to Veterans. Services include cardiology, mental health, primary care, geriatrics, women’s health, acupuncture, chiropractic, and there are plans of adding a sleep clinic, all to meet the growing demands of Veterans.
According to a recent Rand Corporation study, VA health care performs at similar or better than non-VA systems on most measures of inpatient and outpatient care quality. Out of VA’s 171 medical centers, the Lexington HCS is currently among VA’s best.
“The Veteran’s experience is the center of everything we do,” said VA Public Affairs Officer Cat Trombley. “While Veterans are appreciative of being thanked for our service, many of us believe we were doing what we signed up to do. If you want to thank a Veteran, do so through action,” said Cat.
As Cat explained, there are organizations in town that are always looking for help. One of these organizations is Veterans Resources United of Central/Southeastern Kentucky (VRUCK), which meets the third Thursday of every month.
“In April 2016, we were approached by the VA in Lexington to become a ‘My VA Community’ to bridge the gap between Veterans and resources available to them in the 43 counties served by the Lexington VA,” said Phyllis Abbott. “Our mission is to engage, collaborate and bridge the gap between businesses; federal, state, and local agencies; nonprofit organizations; individuals interested in supporting Veterans; Veterans; their families; and Veteran organizations in central and southeastern Kentucky.”
VRUCK is a pillar under Lady Veterans Connect, which Phyllis is the founder. Lady Veterans Connect serves homeless women Veterans by providing a place to heal and participate in programs to transition them back into the women they were when they served our country.
Phyllis founded Lady Veterans Connect, formerly Sheppard’s Hands, to serve Veterans. She found that there were very few services available for female Veterans, so she focused on providing a transitional housing program for women Veterans.
“We currently have a three-bedroom home that was opened in Lexington on July 1, 2016,” said Phyllis. “Since that time, there has not been a night that women Veterans have not been occupying the home. We have also purchased the Trapp School in Winchester, which we are converting into housing and programs for women Veterans to meet the growing needs for women Veterans, who are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.”
As Cat, Tom and Phyllis explained, these organizations that are serving Veterans are always looking for ways to collaborate through public-private partnership.
“Since Oct. 1, 2017, nearly 36,000 hours have been donated by volunteers across the health care system,” Cat said. “The hospitals simply could not run without the contributions of our volunteers. If you can only donate an hour, that hour spent is an amazing contribution that we don’t take lightly. Together we can improve the outcomes for our Veterans.”
How to donate:
Anyone wanting to donate to Veteran Affairs should contact Patrick Sinclair at [email protected] All donations stay local and can be designated. For instance, donations can be made to assist with suicide awareness or they can go into the general fund.
Friends of Lexington Fisher House is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit foundation and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. All financial donations to Friends of Lexington Fisher House are tax deductible and stay local. Donations can be made online www.friendsoflexingtonfisherhouse.org or by mail. Make checks payable to:
Friends of Lexington Fisher House
P.O. Box 54481
Lexington, KY 40555
Lady Veterans Connect accepts donations of cash, furniture, clothing, household goods or other items, which all stay local. To learn more, please visit (www.ladyveteransconnect.org), send an email ([email protected]) or call (859) 806-4297.
Want to volunteer?
The VA Medical Center is always looking for volunteers. Volunteers sit with patients, work with staff and help patients find their way to appointments. If interested, please contact Patrick Sinclair at [email protected]
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Lexington Fisher House, please send an email to [email protected] to learn more.