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Free Lodging Offered to Long-Term VA Hospital Visitors

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System officially opened a "Fisher House" on the campus of its main hospital in Oakland on Tuesday. When a member of a military family from out-of-town must be hospitalized, the house will provide free rooms and meals for the rest of the family.

The 9,500-square-foot building includes ten suites that together could accomodate up to 40 relatives of military family members who've been hospitalized at the VA's University Drive facility. It was built for the VA pro bono by the Fisher House Foundation, which has also constructed 57 others homes across America and Germany since the group's inception in 1990.

Foundation Chairman Ken Fisher said his group began building the houses more than twenty years ago when founder Zach Fisher caught wind of an alarming story.

"The wife of the then-Chief of Naval Operations came upon a sailor sleeping in his car, and when she asked why, he explained that his wife was in the hospital and he couldn't afford a hotel room," said Ken Fisher. "Unfortunately, that's the case with our military. They do a great deal, and they get very little in return."

Fisher said the $3 million house -- complete with kitchen, living room, dining room, and even a library -- will be invaluable to military families.

"From the stress point of view, from the financial point of view, from the support point of view, it's a safe environment," said Fisher.

To be eligible to stay at the Fisher House, military families must live at least 50 miles away from Pittsburgh and have a family member admitted to stay at the University Drive hospital. In addition, the family's social worker or provider must give the VA a recommendation.

Pittsburgh Fisher House manager Michael Clark said it's helpful to provide free lodging for families who might not be able to afford hotel rooms while their loved one is hospitalized.

"A lot of those treatments require them to be laid up in the hospital here in Pittsburgh for a period of two to three days, which could sometimes lead to a week, three to four months, or even up to a year," said Clark. He said there is no time limit on a family's stay.

Clark said the VA would handle operational costs like heating, electricity and water, but the free meals and family activities would be provided by volunteers and local veterans groups.

The Pittsburgh Fisher House is currently accepting boarders, with one tenant already staying there overnight.