Army Capt. Robert Yllescas, a Polk County native, was assigned his first active duty assignment on Sept. 10, 2001. The next day our world changed forever. America shifted its focus to combat terrorism and claim justice for the lives of nearly 3,000 people lost on Sept. 11. After years of training and earning the admiration of his fellow soldiers, Rob learned of his deployment to Camp Keating in Afghanistan, located in the most dangerous territory at the time.
On Oct. 28, 2008, Captain Yllescas was wounded by a remotely controlled IED.
His mother, Barbara Yllescas-Vorthmann received the news shortly after. She began to plan her trip from Nebraska to Germany, where her son was moved after he was evacuated from Afghanistan. No distance could stop her from being by her son’s side, but the reality of securing living arrangements was daunting. She wondered not only if there would be a hotel close to the hospital, but if she would be able to afford the cost of staying for weeks at a time. She came to terms with staying with her son on his hospital room floor if necessary.
After arriving at the airport in Landstuhl, Germany, Barbara was told she would be staying at the Fisher House, where families of service members and veterans can stay free of charge while their loved ones are receiving care in the hospital. She had never heard of it, but she was grateful and relieved the Army had arranged a place for her to stay.
The house was “beautiful and welcoming — and most important, right next to the base hospital,” she said. The staff at the Fisher House answered her questions and offered help in any way they could. After her son was stabilized, they were both flown to Walter Reed Hospital outside of Washington, D.C., where she settled into another Fisher House nearby.
“It was so nice to feel like we were part of a home situation. There was a beautiful laundry room, a gorgeous kitchen, a big living room — everything we needed.”
Barbara explained that she developed friendships with the other residents in the Fisher House. “We became one large family.”
Sadly, Capt. Robert Yllescas passed away one month after his injuries.
Barbara continued, “I could never begin to thank the Fisher House Foundation enough for making the worst time in my life manageable. And that they gave me the means to stay by my son’s bedside while he fought to live.”
I was deeply moved to hear Barbara’s story at the groundbreaking ceremony for Nebraska’s own Fisher House at the Omaha VA Medical Center. The Fisher House will provide a home away from home for the families of our military and veterans receiving care here in Nebraska. The facility will be 15,000 square feet with 16 fully furnished suites, a large kitchen, dining room, elevator and full laundry room.
There are currently 84 Fisher Houses in operation at military facilities across our nation, the United Kingdom and Germany.
In 2018 alone, Fisher Houses around the country housed over 28,000 families. The homes have saved our military service members and their families more than $407 million in lodging and transportation expenses since 1990.
The Fisher House groundbreaking is a clear representation of Nebraska’s deep respect for veterans and all of our service members. The foundation’s motto is “Because a family’s love is good medicine.” It’s a simple message, but as we’ve seen, it carries profound comfort and peace of mind to those who need it most.
As Barbara Yllescas-Vorthmann told the Omaha World-Herald, the Fisher House was “a blessing in one of the darkest times … an answer to prayers.”
Alongside the construction of the new Omaha VA Ambulatory Center, which is slated to be completed next year, I could not be prouder of the work being done to provide our veterans with the highest quality care. We know progress like this doesn’t happen by chance; it’s the result of innovative ideas and determination. I’ll continue o work hard to improve health care for our nation’s heroes and their loved ones any way I can.