In 1863 former governor Edwin Morgan made the first attempt to establish home for Veterans in New York. The State Legislature passed an act for the Soldiers and Sailors Home but the project was abandoned due to lack of interest.
In 1872, a second effort was made, this time by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Another act was passed, incorporating the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home to be built and maintained by the state.However, no funds were appropriated for the project. When considerable time had passed and funds still weren't forthcoming, the GAR made an appeal directly to the public.
This appeal brought in donations totaling $100,000. A committee was formed and potential sites were evaluated in Watkins Glen, Penn Yan, Lake Keuka, and Bath. Bath was chosen because residents of the community had raised $23,000 for the project, more than any other single community in the area.
The cornerstone was laid on June 13, 1877 and the streets of the small village of Bath were congested with over 20,000 visitors. Keynote speakers included former governor Edwin Morgan and Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe).
The first residents of the home, Civil War Veterans, sat down to Christmas dinner in 1878. The grand opening of the facility actually took place on January 23, 1879.
Between 1878 and 1929 the home served wounded combat veterans of New York State. A peak population of 2,143 was reached in 1907, but due to increased age and deaths these ranks were reduced to 192 by 1928.
The Bath Chamber of Commerce requested that the U.S. Government take responsibility of the home and admit veterans from the Spanish-American War and World War One, thus opening it up to veterans from outside New York State.
In May 1929, the Home came under the Board of Managers, National Home for Disabled Veteran Soldiers. This federal agency was abolished when the Veterans Administration was established in 1930.
Today, the Bath VAMC serves over 12,000 Veterans from the Southern Tier of New York and Northern Tier of Pennsylvania.
A Brief History of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) originated during the Civil War as the first federal hospitals and domiciliaries ever established for the nation’s volunteer forces.
National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (1865-1930)
On March 3, 1865, a month before the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the first-ever national soldiers’ and sailors’ asylum to provide medical and convalescent care for discharged members of the Union Army and Navy volunteer forces. The asylum was the first of its kind in the world.
Two early soldiers’ homes were very small and housed up to 300 men. They provided medical care and long-term housing for thousands of Civil War veterans.
The national homes were often called “soldiers’ homes” or “military homes.” Initially only soldiers and sailors who served with the Union forces — including U.S. Colored Troops — were eligible for admittance. The first National Home opened near Augusta, Maine on November 1, 1866.
Many programs and processes begun at the national homes continue at VHA today. They were the first to accept women Veterans for medical care and hospitalization beginning in 1923.
By 1929, the national homes had grown to 11 institutions that spanned the country. All of the national homes have operated continuously since they opened.
Veterans Bureau (1921-1930)
On August 9, 1921, Congress created the Veterans Bureau by combining three World War I Veterans programs into one bureau.
World War I was the first fully mechanized war and soldiers exposed to mustard gas and other chemicals required specialized care. Tuberculosis and neuro-psychiatric hospitals opened to accommodate Veterans with respiratory or mental health problems.
Native Americans, on November 6, 1919, became eligible for full Veterans benefits, including health care. In 1924, Veterans’ benefits were liberalized to cover disabilities that were not service-related. In 1928, admission to the National Homes was extended to women, National Guard, and militia Veterans.
Veterans Administration (1930-1989)
The second consolidation of federal Veterans programs took place on July 21, 1930 when President Herbert Hoover consolidated the Veterans Bureau with the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and Pension Bureau and re-designated it as the Veterans Administration.
General Frank Hines, Director of the Veterans Bureau since 1923, became the first Administrator of the VA. His tenure lasted 22 years and ended in 1945 when General Omar Bradley took the helm. In 1930, VA consisted of 45 hospitals. By 1945, the number had more than doubled to 97.
World War II ushered in a new era of expanded Veterans' benefits through the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly referred to as the "G.I. bill", which was signed into law on June 22, 1944. General Omar Bradley took the reins at VA in 1945 and steered its transformation into a modern organization. In 1946, the Department of Medicine and Surgery was established within VA. VA was able to recruit and retain top medical personnel by modifying the Civil Service system. The first women doctors were hired in 1946. When Bradley left in 1947, there were 125 VA hospitals.
Dr. Paul Magnuson, a VA orthopedic surgeon and Chief Medical Director, 1948-1951, led the charge to create an affiliation program with America’s medical schools for medical research and training purposes. By 1948, 60 medical schools were affiliated with VA hospitals. Over the years, these collaborations resulted in groundbreaking advances in medicine, nursing, medical research, and prosthetics.
In the post-World War II period, 90 new and replacement Veterans hospitals were planned.
The first-ever successful human liver transplant operation took place at the Denver VA Medical Center in May 1963 under Dr. Thomas Starzl. In 1977, two VA doctors, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow (Bronx VAMC) and Dr. Andrew Schally (New Orleans VAMC) received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in developing radioimmunoassay of peptide hormones. Many modern medical advances originated as trials or experiments in VA hospitals and now benefit patients of all types worldwide.
Department of Veterans Affairs (since 1989)
The VA was elevated to a Cabinet-level Executive Department by President Ronald Reagan in October 1988. The change took effect on March 15, 1989, when the Veterans Administration was renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, but retained use of “VA” as its acronym.
The Department of Medicine and Surgery was re-designated as the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration and on May 7, 1991, the name was changed to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest of three administrations that comprise the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VHA’s primary mission is to provide medical care and services to America’s military Veterans.
VHA operates one of the largest health care systems in the world and provides training for a majority of America’s medical, nursing, and allied health professionals. Roughly 60% of all medical residents obtain a portion of their training at VA hospitals and our medical research programs benefit society at-large.
Today’s VHA continues to meet Veterans’ changing medical, surgical, and quality of life needs. New programs provide treatment for traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, women Veterans, and more.
VA opened outpatient clinics, established telemedicine, and other services to accommodate a diverse Veteran population and cultivates on-going medical research and innovation to improve the lives of America’s patriots.