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National News

January 3, 2013

NATIONAL: At Fisher Houses, Military Familes Share Roof and Sometimes Grief

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"My blood disorder is not terminal," said Krebs, a Korean War veteran who expects to check out of Fisher House in mid-January. But he knows others will leave without their loved ones.

Sometimes, individual managers of Fisher Houses act not only as innkeepers but as social workers.

Kenneth Merritt, a retired Army master sergeant who manages the Fisher House next to the District of Columbia's VA Medical Center, demurred when asked if he felt he helped families cope in deep, emotional ways.

"I'm just a person who wants to make sure people here are comfortable," Merritt said.

Sitting nearby, Krebs objected. "He's modest," Krebs said. "People bring their problems to him."

But much more frequently, the guests rely on each other. They form friendships that outlive their Fisher House stays.

When Bridgit Fennell first met Eve Poole in April 2012 at the Fisher House at Walter Reed, the two women did not click. Fennell gave Poole an earful when she saw her cleaning dishes in the house kitchen by hand, and not using the dishwasher. Poole thought Fennell was too high-strung.

But as the months wore on, Poole listened to Fennell grieve about her husband Ken's cancer and the stressful navigation of military health-care system. Fennell supported Poole as her husband, Alfred Poole, 52, an active-duty Army liaison, dealt with a cascade of medical issues and memory loss.

And they figured out ways to turn misery into moments of amusement.

"At one point, Mr. Poole and my husband had walkers. And once they raced around the kitchen island in them," Fennell said, standing in the same kitchen, eyeing that island. "Ken had an '18-wheeler,' and Mr. Poole had these little training wheels. We laughed so hard, it didn't matter."

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