The VA Palo Alto Health Care System is one of the largest and most medically advanced facilities in the Western U.S. and Pacific Rim. Each year more than 63,000 veterans travel there seeking a wide array of medical treatments from a brain trauma to cancer, many traveling thousands of miles. Lodging for veterans and their families during treatment can get very expensive very quickly.
The mission of the Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge is to provide these veterans and their caregivers with a comfortable, accessible place to stay free of charge while they undergo medical care. The Defenders Lodge officially opened its doors to guests May 19, 2014, with 34,000 square feet of space including 52 rooms and 104 beds. To cover the costs of construction, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation) is working to raise $11 million in private donations as part of a $17 million public-private partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To learn more about Defenders Lodge, we contacted Jane E. Whitfield, President and CEO of PenFed Foundation.
HistoryNet: In your own words, how would you describe the mission of Defenders Lodge?
Jane E. Whitfield: The project seeks to ensure that our nation’s veterans are not prevented from receiving vital medical care because of the financial hurdles of expensive lodging in the Palo Alto area. Veterans seeking outpatient treatment at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are not given a place to stay, even if they travel from as far as Alaska or Guam. They have to find a hotel room in the vicinity, which costs an average $120 – $180 per night, meaning a veteran seeking outpatient care would have to spend roughly $2,500 to $4,000 per year just on lodging. That is not affordable for many veterans. The Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge is a world-class hotel that provides comfortable five-star accommodations free of charge for our nation’s defenders receiving medical treatment. They fought for our country to preserve our way of life. They deserve the dignity of not having to choose between receiving the medical care that they need and meeting the financial needs of their families. The Defenders Lodge was built for this reason. The PenFed Foundation works to prevent short-term financial challenges, like the ability to afford lodging near a treatment facility, into becoming long-term problems, such as delaying or putting off needed medical care.
HN: There was an older facility for temporary housing on the VA campus, but it will have be demolished. What are some of the ways this modern building will differ from the old one?
JW: The need to provide adequate lodging to outpatient veterans and their caregivers was great. The Hometel, which was built more than 20 years ago, was originally an old surgical ward that was converted to provide accommodations to veterans in need of short-term housing. It remained in use until May 18, the night before the Defenders Lodge opened. I believe it will be torn down later this year. The Hometel was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor was it in compliance with the local fire code. The new Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge is 100 percent ADA-compliant—wheelchairs work in every part of the Lodge, from the doorways to the kitchens and bathrooms. The new facility is 34,000 square feet, nearly twice the size of its predecessor, and is complete with 52 large rooms, 104 beds, a library, family room, kitchen and Wi-Fi throughout the building.
The team that designed the Defenders Lodge went to great lengths to create an environment for healing, with every decision made thoughtfully with the veteran’s recovery and well-being in mind. Another important difference is that the Defenders Lodge offers privacy for its guests, unlike the Hometel. Each guest room has a lock on the door. And finally, a support network is an essential component to the healing process and the Hometel could not meet the demand for short-term lodging for a caregiver to accompany a veteran. The Defenders Lodge will be able to accommodate both the veterans and their caregiver.
HN: The full name of the facility is the Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge. Who are Lee and Penny Anderson?
JW: Lee and Penny Anderson are generous philanthropists who have steadfastly supported veterans for many years. They were deeply moved by the needs of outpatient veterans at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, and in 2011, made a very generous gift to help build first-class accommodations for our military. Mister Anderson is an Army veteran, and owner and chairman of the APi Group, LLC. He and Mrs. Anderson are strong advocates for the brave men and women in our nation’s military, and for the PenFed Foundation’s work to support them. We are grateful for their generosity and spirit of giving.
HN: A lot of our readers may not be familiar with the PenFed Foundation. Tell us a bit about it, please.
JW: The PenFed Foundation works to meet the unmet needs of active-duty military members, veterans, and their families by providing emergency financial assistance, home ownership aid, and alternatives to predatory lending, in addition to supporting the new Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge. We hope to build a secure economic future for our military community. PenFed (Pentagon Federal Credit Union) covers all labor expenses for the Foundation, so nearly every dollar donated goes directly to supporting our programs.
HN: The lodge is now open and receiving guests, but fundraising continues. What are some of the existing needs, and how can Americans help, who want to assist this project?
JW: I am thrilled to announce that the Lodge officially opened its doors to veterans on May 19 of this year. On its first night alone we served 52 veterans and because of the need we expect to serve more than 15,000 veterans each year. However, we are continuing to raise much-needed private funds to help pay for the costs of making Defenders Lodge available to veterans and their caregivers, and we look to the community to help us in raising the last $6 million needed.
HN: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
JW: Thank you for the giving me this opportunity to talk about the Lee & Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge. The PenFed Foundation could not be prouder. We are honored to lead such an important project serving the needs of service members and veterans. I invite your readers to find out more about Defenders Lodge and how they can support this vital resource at www.defenderslodge.org. All contributions make a real, tangible difference in the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and safety.
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