Repairs are completed or in the works for at least some of the five Fisher Houses damaged by winter storms earlier this year, including one at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, that suffered about $266,000 in damage, officials said.
Two out of three Fisher Houses at Lackland suffered extensive water damage after pipes burst in the below-freezing temperatures, said Angelina Casarez, a spokeswoman for Joint Base San Antonio.
A Fisher House at Fort Hood was damaged, but information was not available about the extent or cost of the damage. Two houses near VA medical centers in Houston and Dallas were also damaged.
The Fisher House comfort homes are located near many military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to provide lodging for loved ones of those who are hospitalized, free of charge.
During a hearing last month of a House Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, questioned Air Force officials about the damage to the Fisher Houses at Lackland, noting that the houses are “critical to the community….
“The worry I have is the Fisher House is going to be the last thing to get replaced, right?” Gonzales said. Brig. Gen. William Kale, Air Force director of civil engineers said he would provide information later.
In response to Military Times’ questions, Casarez said Air Force civil engineers are scheduling the extensive repairs to begin in June at the Fisher House Building 3865 at Lackland, and the cost is estimated at $266,000. Repairs will entail replacing carpet with vinyl planks, and sheetrock and painting in many rooms to fix damage from standing water, Casarez said. There is no estimated completion date.
Repairs at Lackland’s Building 3812 Fisher House have been completed, at a cost of $19,625, Casarez said. That involved repairs to flooring and sheetrock. At one point earlier this year, all three of Lackland’s Fisher Houses were down for almost two months due to a mixture of COVID-19 and winter storm damage, Lackland officials said in an earlier press release.
By Air Force regulation, officials can use taxpayer dollars for the maintenance and repair of the Fisher Houses. Fisher House locations are built in cooperation with the departments of defense and VA, and after completion, they are donated to the military services and VA for management and maintenance.
One Fisher House was damaged at Fort Hood, but officials have not provided information on the extent of damage by press time. The Fisher House Foundation has provided assistance to the Fort Hood Fisher House by providing alternative lodging, and has offered to provide support to the other Fisher Houses, said Fisher House spokeswoman Michelle Baldanza.
There’s no need for the extra support from the Fisher House Foundation at Lackland, Casarez said, because there are two other Fisher House programs in the San Antonio area that can offer assistance if prospective guests meet their criteria. The Fisher House Foundation’s Hotels for Heroes program is also available, and a local community non-profit has offered to pay hotel expenses if the Lackland Fisher Houses are unable to house a family because of lack of rooms due to storm damage, she said.
Two VA Fisher Houses were damaged by the storm, one in Dallas, and another in Houston, Baldanza said. In Dallas, about $150,000 damage was done after pipes burst and the ceiling collapsed, causing extensive damage to the interior, including furniture, said Jeffrey Alford, assistant manager of the Fisher House there. There was also roof and gutter damage. VA officials are in the process of addressing the damage, but meanwhile, families’ lodging needs are being taken care of, he said.
Information was not available about the Houston Fisher House.
Many other VA, Army and Air Force Fisher Houses temporarily lost power and/or water because of the storms, Baldanza said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.