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Heroes Program Helps Families Travel

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Families of wounded warriors already are benefitting from a program that started last month to make it easier for them to travel with their loved ones for medical treatment.

The Defense Department and Fisher House Foundation have teamed up to oversee the Hotels for Heroes program, which allows the American public to donate their unused hotel reward points to families of wounded warriors so that they might stay for free in hotels around the country while their family member receives medical treatment.

"The family members of our wounded heroes should never have to stress about the financial burden of travel," David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said at a July 16 ceremony. "We are honored to help facilitate the process and are confident that the American public will help make this new program a success."

Cindy Campbell, the foundation's vice president for community relations and media affairs, said Aug. 7 that the program already has provided 60 nights of lodging for military families.

"We're very fortunate in that many of the hotel chains banked a lot of points for us," she said. "That has allowed us to go ahead and get started. And a lot of people already have donated points, but we are going to go through these quickly."

Sadly, Campbell said, "there is a huge demand" from families who must travel to locations without one of the 57 Fisher Houses, or where they are full. The houses near large military medical centers fill up quickly.

The program's sponsors are optimistic, given the success of its sister program, Hero Miles, that has allowed them to give away more than 30,000 plane tickets since it was created in 2003, Campbell said.

The annual need for hotel rooms "is a very substantial six-figure number," she said, "so this is really going to help us out."

Pictured here at the launch ceremony: (left to right): David Coker, Fisher House Foundation president; U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin; Jessica Allen and her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Chaz Allen and their daughters, Ryann and Deryn Allen; U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger; Mark Nicpon of AmericInn; Debbie Marriott Harrison of Marriott.; Joseph McInerney of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Courtesy photo

Jessica Allen, whose husband, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Allen, is recovering from a roadside bomb, used Hero Miles to fly herself and her two daughters back and forth to her husband's hospital bed during his recovery and rehabilitation.

"Hero Miles saved our family from a crushing expense - and gave our daughters the chance to be with their dad when he was in the hospital and learning to walk again," Allen said at the program's launch ceremony. "Hotels for Heroes will do something similar, and I am thankful to all the people who have and will donate their unused hotel points to benefit our military families."

Six major hotel companies - Marriott, Wyndham, Best Western, Starwood, AmericInn and Choice Privileges Hotels - are participating in the program.

The program fills a void, Campbell said, in allowing the American public to give back. "It's a very simple way for business travelers while they are racking up so many hotel points, to give back," she said.

People can donate points by going to their hotel rewards club website, which has a tab for Fisher House donations.

Fisher House Foundation is best known for the network of comfort homes built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. The Fisher Houses are donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs, and families can stay in the houses while a loved one is receiving treatment. Additionally, the foundation ensures that families of service men and women wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan are not burdened with unnecessary expense during a time of crisis.

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