Bulldozers have begun moving earth to build a free lodging facility for families of sick or injured veterans next to the VA Medical Center in Omaha.

A formal groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday for the 15,000-square-foot Fisher House, though site work actually began in late July. The $8 million facility will include 16 hotel-style suites. Families can stay there without cost while a veteran receives care through the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System. It’s the first of its kind in Nebraska.

“If the veteran is in the hospital, the family can stay, too,” said Julie Rickert, associate director of operations for VA Nebraska-Western Iowa.

Barb Yllescas-Vorthmann of Treynor, Iowa, stayed in Fisher House facilities at Landstuhl, Germany, and in Washington, D.C., for more than a month after her son, Capt. Rob Yllescas, was badly wounded in combat in Afghanistan on Oct. 28, 2008, and died a month later.

“They were a blessing in one of the darkest times in my life,” said Yllescas-Vorthmann, vice president of the Nebraska Gold Star Mothers chapter, which also includes western Iowa.

She will be among the speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony, along with Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Don Bacon, State Sen. Tom Brewer, VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Director B. Don Burman, and Fisher House Foundation President David Coker.

There are more than 80 Fisher Houses at military and veterans hospitals around the United States, as well as two in Europe. The program was begun in 1990 by Zachary Fisher, a New York real estate developer and philanthropist who became involved in causes to support military veterans as well as first responders.

In addition to large hotel-type suites, Fisher Houses have a common kitchen/dining area where families get to know one another, as well as laundry facilities.

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“It’s just like being at home. In fact, a lot of us agreed it was better than home,” Yllescas-Vorthmann said. She said the staff at the homes was compassionate and helpful, and the families who stayed there bonded and supported one another through terrible times.

The Omaha facility is being built near the corner of 42nd Street and Woolworth Avenue, on land formerly occupied by a gym and some temporary buildings. It is funded by the Fisher House Foundation with local donations and will be given to the VA when complete to operate as a federal building. It is expected to open in late 2020.

“This is an answer to a prayer,” Yllescas-Vorthmann said.

Steve is the military affairs reporter for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @SteveLiewer. Phone: 402-444-1186.

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