By Andrew Adams
They often pick up and leave at a moment's notice to support their loved ones during medical emergencies. And these families of military vets often don't have a place to stay - or even a change of clothes - when they show up to the VA hospital.
That's where Fisher House comes into play. Salt Lake City's has been taking in guests since January.
It's a palatial home away from home. Paid for by the Fisher House Foundation, it cost $5.8 million to build, and is luxurious from top to bottom.
The 20-bedroom home features a giant kitchen with multiple large refrigerators and ovens. There are solid-surface counters. Throughout Fisher House, there are leather and richly-upholstered couches and chairs.
"They want it always very, very nice and always very upscale because it's our way of saying thank you to these families," said Quinn Kiger-Good, manager of the Salt Lake City Fisher House.
All veterans getting medical treatments at the hospital are welcome and can stay at no cost, though the rooms fill up quickly.
Guests are expected to provide their own food and other necessities, and do their own laundry.
Federal and private funds help to keep the building in operation and maintained. The house does need and accept donations to cover things like toiletries. Volunteers are also greatly needed, Kiger-Good said. Kiger-Good is the only full-time employee. There are two part-time workers.
For people like Air Force reservist Chris Bennett of San Antonio, Texas, Fisher House is a godsend. His father, an Army vet and civil servant from Oklahoma, has been in Salt Lake City for weeks for a heart transplant. Bennett said he expected to be in Utah months more.
"Six heart attacks later, this is where we're at," Bennett said. "So, it's great to have this comfort."
Two other guests KSL talked to were eye patients. Sandi Clum is from McGill, Nevada, and said she appreciated the affordable option the house provides.
"It's gorgeous," Clum said. "I want the decorator to come decorate my house."
Norris Randolph of Blackfoot, Idaho, needed his wife, Michele, to help escort him around the grounds. His badly impaired vision makes him beyond legally blind.
Randolph did three tours of duty off the coast of Vietnam for the Navy, and has quickly made friends at Fisher House.
"It's almost like you're talking to family in the kitchen," Randolph said. "They're going to accept you as a person because we're all here together - we're all veterans."
Fisher House was the brainchild of real estate mogul-turned-philanthropist Zachary Fisher, and the first came to be in 1990.
Fisher, according to Kiger-Good, anticipated an increase in need to serve veterans because of Gulf War 1. True to his prediction, the number of military vets in this country has increased to 21.9 million according to 2010 Census data. That includes 4.5 million vets who served in the Persian Gulf.
For Bennett, he said he is thankful for a place to rest and care for his father.
"Be recharged - when we go back to try to pump him up and get him going again," Bennett said. "You know, he needs that."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski