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work together to advise Fisher House of the most immediate needs. Fisher House staff then conducts site visits. If a location is approved, the government turns over the land to Fisher House, which takes over construction. This speeds the process because Fisher House isn’t encumbered by the sometimes onerous contracting regulations government agencies must follow. “We can usually build a house within nine months,” Childress said. “We completely furnish it so that it’s turnkey and then turn the house and land back over to the VA or DOD, which then owns and operates the Fisher House.” Fisher House sponsors annual training for the house managers, bringing them to a central location to network and share information, problems and solutions. “Fisher Houses are so much more than a free place to stay. That’s important, but the families bond in a way that would never happen if they were in hotels. They support one another, cry on each other’s shoulders, celebrate the good times. I’ve heard many families talk about friendships they made that last a lifetime,” Childress said. “It’s a place where families heal, too.”

GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

If ever there was an example of an actor experiencing a life-changing moment after playing a fictional character, it’d be difficult to top that of Gary Sinise and his powerful portrayal of Lt. Dan in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump. The character, while fictional, illustrates the range of difficulties and emotions wounded service members endure and the struggles many face trying to resume some semblance of their former lives. “Coming from a family of veterans, I felt a terrible sorrow at a young age at what happened to our Vietnam veterans when they came home from war,” Sinise said. “So, in the ’80s, I began to try to support them locally in Chicago. In the mid-’90s, after playing the injured Vietnam veteran in Forrest Gump, I began to support our wounded veterans, and shortly after the attacks of 9/11, 2001, with our nation deploying troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, these early efforts grew into a full-time commitment to try to ensure that our defenders always know they are appreciated.” Those efforts evolved into the Gary Sinise Foundation (garysinisefoundation. org). Established in 2011, it focuses on four pillars: Education and Outreach, Relief and Resiliency, First Responder Outreach, and R.I.S.E., which stands for Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment. Judy Otter, the foundation’s executive

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director, said the R.I.S.E. program consumes most of the nonprofit’s resources, with much of the money allocated to building homes. Each home features automated amenities to ease challenges faced by wounded or disabled veterans. The program also provides adapted vehicles and mobility devices. Some homes are built new while others are modified to meet the veteran’s needs. Retired Army National Guard Master Sgt. John Masson and his family are beneficiaries of one such home. Masson was a 20th Special Forces Group soldier when he was severely wounded in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province in 2010. His home in Southern Pines, N.C., was custom-built for him, thanks to Building for America’s Bravest, a R.I.S.E. partner, and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. “Living with a disability can cause much stress, as I encounter obstacles multiple times on a daily basis out and about, throughout the world,” Masson said. “In our home, I can get through every hallway, into every single room, and out every single entry and exit with ease and with no help, whatsoever.” The smart home includes a kitchen with retractable cabinets and shelving, and the home has transfer benches and no carpeting, making it easier for Masson to get around in his wheelchair. “There is absolutely no other place that can compare to the comfort of our home. No five-star hotel, no other specially adapted home and no mansion,” Masson said. Otter praised the foundation’s wide range of national partners, which provide furniture, wood flooring, roofing materials and more. Sixty-one homes have been completed or are underway. “We tend to add eight to 12 new home recipients a year, and we like to have at least two-thirds of the project funds in place before we begin work on a home. Site acquisition, design and construction typically spans 18 months,” she said. Otter said the foundation is also expanding its Soaring Valor program, begun in 2015. Somewhat similar to Honor Flights, where World War II and Korean War veterans are flown to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials for free, the Sinise Foundation trips are to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. While there, a historian documents the veterans’ firsthand accounts of the war on video. In 2017, Soaring Valor started pairing veterans with high school students who CO N T I N U E D

GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

Gary Sinise poses with retired Army Master Sgt. John Masson and his family, who live in their specially adapted smart home in Southern Pines, N.C.

JULIA ROBINSON/GARY SINISE FOUNDATION

During a dedication, Marine Sgt. Michael Frazier checks out his new North Carolina smart home, built for his family by the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017