Helping veterans: Attorney assists in Fisher House Michigan development efforts

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Bodman attorney Harvey Berman, treasurer of the board and pro bono counsel for Fisher House Michigan, took part in the groundbreaking of the Fisher House on the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center campus in June 2018.  Pictured (l-r) Dan Patrick, Kate Melcher, Brad Chick, Karen Kerry, Harvey Berman, Greg Stejskal, Kathy Hay, and Ashish Sarkar.

Photo courtesy of Fisher House Michigan

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Ann Arbor attorney Harvey Berman attended a November 2015 “Stories of Service” event honoring veterans, at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. The occasion, centering on unique personal stories of veterans, was a life-changer for him.

There, Berman met Ann Arbor Rotarian Karen Kerry, who was trying to get a Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher House built in Michigan, a temporary “home away from home” at no charge, for families and caregivers of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers. Michigan is home to approximately 650,000 veterans, with five VA Medical Centers.

Kerry was moved to hear the story of Berman’s parents, Holocaust survivors liberated from concentration camps by American soldiers, and who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II.

“After Karen heard my family’s story, she called and asked if Bodman would form the nonprofit entity and obtain tax-exempt status,” Berman explains. “We said yes, and a month later, I was asked to be on the first board. 

“I do this because our members of the armed forces risk their lives for us every day so we can be free – and the very least they deserve is free medical care and a place where their families can stay when the veteran in their family is being treated at a VA facility. I do this because unknown American soldiers saved my parents’ lives and made it possible for us to live in America. I do this because it’s the right thing to do – and we owe it to our veterans.”

The Fisher House motto is, “A family’s love is good medicine”.

“Imagine how difficult it would be for our veterans to regain health if they couldn’t have family with them during their medical challenge,” Berman says. “Through my involvement with Fisher House Michigan, I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known – humble, dedicated, grateful American veterans who complain less about losing a limb than most Americans complain about the weather. These men and women are our real heroes – and the future of our country – because they understand the true meaning of serving others.”

Berman, an attorney with Bodman in Ann Arbor, is completing his term as treasurer of the Fisher House Michigan board, and provides pro bono counsel. “It’s an honor and a pleasure to service Fisher House Michigan,” he says. “We have a great board and executive director—Kate Melcher, a former Army Apache helicopter pilot—that takes very seriously the trust placed in us and our mission by the public.”

To date, FHM has raised $7 million of its $20 million goal, which will fund two Fisher Houses, support families during their stay, and provide funds to endow other Fisher Houses in Michigan. “Of course, we have a long way to go and we’re always looking for leadership and other donations,” Berman says.

“We’re committed to doing everything in accordance with the law including having annual audited financials,” he adds. “My position as counsel has been important for our board and donors to assure we fulfill the trust placed in our organization.”

Construction of the Fisher House on the VA’s Ann Arbor campus is bricked in, and Berman is confident it will house families of veterans before next June. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Tim Walberg and Paula Tutman from Channel 4 in Detroit attended last summer’s groundbreaking.

In March 2018, the Veterans Administration approved the building of a second Fisher House in Michigan, planned to be within walking distance of the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit.

“Fundraising for that effort is well underway and we eagerly anticipate site selection and groundbreaking in that city as well,” Berman says. “Our team has committed to support any Fisher House in the state that our veterans need.”  

Fisher House Michigan held its 5th annual fundraiser, Stories of Service: An Evening With Veterans on Nov. 6 at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Delta Airlines was the main event sponsor.

“It may sound like a cliché, but the stories we hear at SOS are true personal stories of courage, valor, emotional strength, humility, commitment and patriotism that is rarely known by civilians,” Berman says. “Tears are shed – all are moved – and we gain a better understanding of service.”

The chair of Bodman PLC’s Construction Practice Group, Berman notes all Fisher Houses are designed and constructed by the national Fisher House Foundation in Maryland and must meet rigorous government standards.

Berman concentrates his practice in construction, contracts, real estate and business matters including claims and alternative dispute resolution, and also focuses on “green” building and “lean” construction matters.
He is a member of the Forum on the Construction Industry of the American Bar Association, the Washtenaw Contractors Association, and the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor.

He is also a LEED Accredited Professional specializing in sustainable building systems and practices; one of only a small group of lawyers in Michigan to achieve that certification.

An alumnus of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Berman has always been interested in writing and public speaking and also had a strong interest in profit and nonprofit organizations having helped start quite a few over the years.  “Law seemed like a great way to combine these interests,” he says.

He was the attorney for Blaney Park, a logging town turned resort and residential development in the Upper Peninsula, victim of unscrupulous developers; and was the attorney for an architectural firm relating to claims involving the Hell Dam project that involved virtually every prominent construction attorney in Detroit at the time. He recently resolved without litigation a major construction defect dispute involving an out-of-state construction project involving a 650,000 SF automotive parts plant; and has represented the project owner on numerous high profile and other construction transactions.

Berman and his wife Shelly Kovacs, an author and private sports and educational consultant to high school and college students, make their home in Ann Arbor with their Goldendoodle Teddy. Their son Josh works for Culture Amp in San Francisco, and daughter Julia works for Franworth in Ann Arbor.

Most of his spare time is spent rooting for Michigan and helping  organizations such as Life Remodeled which revitalizes Detroit neighborhoods and the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program, Inc.  

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