ANN ARBOR, Mich., Nov. 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- In the shadow of perhaps the most acrimonious electoral campaign in modern history, this most famous anti-Vietnam War protest college town has taken the lead in support of the healthcare and wound recovery of the nation's veterans.
Iraq combat veteran Deborah Trimble and triple-amputee Afghanistan veteran Kevin Trimble, were receiving tumultuous applause at Ann Arbor's historic Michigan Theater for telling of their respective combat experiences and sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of how the VA Healthcare System enabled them to move on with their lives.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Michigan's 12th District, and Dr. Mary Beth Skupien, Acting Director VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, joined the brother and sister combat veterans on-stage.
"Tonight it is my great honor and distinct pleasure to announce that Ann Arbor has been approved by the VA Healthcare System and Fisher Foundation as the site of the first Fisher House in Michigan, impacting the lives of 640,000 Michigan veterans and their families," Congresswoman Dingell said.
It was a stunning capstone to sixteen months of intense cooperative work by Democrats, Republicans and Independents, by university and community business leaders, and community activists, ignoring the acrimony and accusations that framed the Presidential campaign, to make the extraordinary medical care resources of Ann Arbor—one of the nation's greatest medical centers—far more accessible to the nation's military veterans.
Kevin Trimble, an Army veteran, was on foot patrol when his battle buddy stepped on an I.E.D. and died, the explosion leaving Kevin a triple-amputee. The quality of treatment and care he and his family received from the Veterans Healthcare System and at Fisher Houses in other states, inspired his sister Deborah to change her university studies from law enforcement to pre-med.
Deborah went on to win a Pat Tillman Scholarship and is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan Medical School. Kevin is sufficiently recovered to be pursuing a degree in Nanotechnology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
"The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System is one of the leading veterans' healthcare facilities in the nation," Acting Director Dr. Skupien said. "And with your help tonight, in the future, veterans like Kevin Trimble, and family members like Deborah Trimble, who come here for extended care and need lodging, will finally have a Fisher House next to our VA, offering free lodging for family members during the ongoing care of their veteran."
Another wounded veteran followed on-stage. Matt Drake was serving as an Army Psychological Operations specialist in Iraq when a suicide car bomber accelerated with a two hundred pound bomb directly into his Humvee, blasting a twenty-foot crater and killing his two companions. Matt was barely alive with severe burns, broken bones and a massive head injury.
Speaking deliberately and clearly after 12 years of medical care, Matt Drake thanked the VA Healthcare System and Fisher Foundation for enabling him to recover sufficiently to live independently. He serves as an ambassador for NuStep, Inc., lead sponsor of Wednesday's Ann Arbor veterans program and manufacturer of the recumbent trainer on which Matt regained his strength.
Congresswoman Dingell and Dr. Skupien made the dramatic announcement at Service Above Self—Honoring Our Veterans, a storytelling event at the Michigan Theater, to filled seats even in the aftermath of the Presidential election.
Similar to a Ronald McDonald House, a Fisher House in Ann Arbor, Michigan will provide lodging for up to 16 families of eligible veterans and military at no cost, allowing them to be close to their loved one at the most stressful time–during their medical care for an injury, illness or disease.
With a patient service region that includes Michigan, Northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, families and caregivers of veterans traveling more than fifty miles are clearly challenged by both the expense and shortage of hotel rooms in Ann Arbor, Michigan, particularly during sports events and art fairs.
Michigan, a leading state for military enlistments with 640,000 veterans, does not have a Fisher House. Ohio is building its fourth, Florida has six and Texas has seven Fisher Houses. According to VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, 200-300 veterans and their families request lodging per month.
The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System has abundant land on its wooded site. But it needed a speedy approval from the Veterans Health Administration and the Fisher Foundation. And this required a credible community partner that would step up to the challenge of raising at least $3,000,000 in matching funds from business and private donors.
"Within days, the 100-year-old Rotary Club of Ann Arbor agreed to take the lead," recalls Randy Ritter, a retired VA administrator who led the community outreach in mid-2015. The University of Michigan Veteran and Military Services was quick to join. Soon a rich mix of Rotarians, local veterans, representative of the Universities of Michigan and Concordia University, local business executives and experienced fund-raisers were driving a fast-moving fund-raising 501(c)(3) they named Build It For The Brave.
Working closely with Michigan Congresswoman Dingell (D), spouse of America's longest serving and now retired Congressman and WWll veteran John Dingell, who together have made veterans' issues their special cause, and Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley (R), this bi-partisan enterprise produced a spectacular veterans celebration event at the world-renowned University of Michigan Hill Auditorium last year.
A year later, during a second Service Above Self-Honoring Our Veterans event, the Fisher House Michigan application approval was revealed. In an already emotional night of wounded combat veteran storytellers and live music, the audience cheered.
Beyond the filled donation boxes in the Michigan Theater, with a matching pledge by newly elected U-M Regent Ron Weiser (R), the balance of three million dollars in capital investment still must be raised. Online donations may be made at http://vetsinthetheater.org.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Lawrence Dolph, (734) 516-5841, Ldolph@RFDInsight.com.