Our History - Chillicothe VA Medical Center
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Chillicothe VA Medical Center

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Our History

How We Began

Camp Sherman

In April of 1917, the United States Congress passed a declaration of war, and the U.S. soon entered World War I against Germany and her allies. Military training camps were needed and on June 8, 1917, Chillicothe, Ohio, was selected as the site for training soldiers fCamp Sherman Troopsrom Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. A site north of town was selected because of the climate, plentiful food and water, supplies, transportation network and level terrain. The camp was named in honor of Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman who hailed from nearby Lancaster. It would become the third largest training center in the United States at that time.

Construction on the camp began on July 1, 1917, with the first draftees arriving September 5. The camp consisted of over 2,000 buildings, including the camp hospital complex, which contained over 50 buildings with a capacity of over 1,800 patients. Over 40,000 soldiers were stationed at Camp Sherman.

The End of the War - and the Beginning of the Veterans' Hospital

The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and five days later the Army announced its plans to discharge 12,000 men from Camp Sherman. The 40th Infantry was then given the assignment of maintaining the camp as part of the peacetime army. The war injured started arriving at the Camp Sherman Hospital in December, 1918. President Harding appointed a commission to study Veterans' needs. The commission recommended $35 million be set aside for hospital construction- enough for about 50 hospitals. The Veterans Bureau made plans for a permanent Veterans Hospital on the Camp Sherman site.

Chillicothe, Ohio, was to become the site of the first Veterans' Bureau operated hospital. In 1923, Buildings 1-22 were constructed. Some buildings were transferred from the Army to the Veterans Bureau. By June 1, 1924, the hospital was complete and ready for occupancy. Bed capacity was 452 and it had cost 2.5 million to build. The first patient was admitted on June 16, 1924, and came from Columbus.

Over the Years

The Early Years

The early days of the Chillicothe VA facility were full of challenges. There were no phones on the hospital grounds, making communication difficult. Staff members were driven to work in Red Cross ambulances (the carpools of the day). 1925 brought much growth to the hospital, including remodeling of the road to the hospital, new radio receiving apparatus in each ward, electrical wiring for fans and desk lights, and removal of concrete bases and filling of trenches left by the War Department. The hospital was able to provide much of its own supplies with the transplanting of 600 fruit trees for an orchard, construction of two corn cribs (capacity of 10,000 bushels of corn), purchase of 9 teams of mules for farm work and installation of soap-making equipment. The hospital owned and operated their own farm for many years, raising and canning vegetables and raising livestock for meat. The old YMCA building was remodeled into a building for Occupational Therapy purposes. A band, orchestra and choir were organized, comprised of patients and employees. The library was enlarged and a librarian was hired. During this time growth of the facility itself also continued as more Veterans had to be accommodated.

The Veterans Administration

In 1930, Congress established the Veterans Administration to "consolidate and coordinate government agencies affecting war Veterans". The various existing hospitals and agencies were consolidated into one organization, with the result being 54 hospitals nation-wide.

Chillicothe's VA hospital saw a lot of growth in the post-war years. Six buildings were constructed or remodeled in 1932. The dining hall, kitchen and recreation buildings were remodeled, with modern conveniences added, such as an electric oven to bake bread (400 loaves an hour) and electrical ice cream equipment. The recreation hall had a projection booth from which movies could be shown. Mops and brooms were made by the veterans in the Occupational Therapy program at the Chillicothe hospital for all of the other Veterans Hospitals in the United States. it was a successful, ever-growing facility.

By 1941, Chillicothe had 12 patient care buildings providing 1,522 beds. The staff included 13 physicians, 2 dentists, 54 nurses, 264 attendants, 1 recreational aide, 1 pharmacist and 1 x-ray technician. Veterans began a therapeutic transition back into the community through a family care home program which began in 1959. Social Work service oversaw one of the largest community residential care home programs in the VA system. Not long after this, a Community Nursing Home Program was established for Veterans who needed a higher level of care.

Construction continued at the Chillicothe VA. In 1955, the baseball stadium was completed. The dedication was held on Hospital Day, an annual community celebration. A few years later, in 1960, the gymnasium was completed, designed to "meet the specialized needs of neuro-psychiatric patients". It is still in use today for the fitness needs of Veterans and employees. Another feature that was opened in 1960 is the 9-hole, Par 36 Golf Course. The South Central Ohio Homeless Veterans Committee leases the golf course today, using patients from the Compensated Work Therapy program as the work force to maintain the grounds. The All Faiths Chapel was dedicated in 1963. This building was very modern for its time, even being air-conditioned. It seats 400 persons, including an area for 20 wheelchairs. In April, 1995, the chapel was renamed the Joseph E. Quinlan Memorial All Faiths Chapel. Father Quinlan dedicated 54 years of his life ministering to the spiritual needs of others, with over 35 of those years being spent at the Chillicothe VA.

Serving Our Veterans

Program Changes

As the needs of Veterans changed, so did the programs at the Chillicothe VA. Vocational Rehabilitation changed from the primarily agricultural classes in the early years to the computer classes, golf course maintenance, assembly work and other skills of today. The Hospital Industries Program (HIP) began in 1967 and allowed businesses to contract with HIP for assembly work, packaging, sorting and mailing.

During the 1970's the pharmacy underwent a renovation that added air conditioning and 3,700 square foot of space. They began a prescription mail out service to Veterans in 32 counties. Other improvements in the following years included the lab and radiology expansions and the connection of the large circle buildings by corridors.

The VA entered the computer age in 1983. Desktop terminals began replacing paper and pencil and typewriters. Early uses of these computers included purchase orders, receiving reports, payments and other types of coding sent to the Austin data processing center. Today's computer system enables employees to access online information at the main campus and its community clinics. Clinical staff can access computerized patient medical records, bar-coded medication administration and medical imaging.

The 1990s were a time of progress at the medical center. In 1993, the Chillicothe Paints baseball team played their first game at the VA Memorial Stadium. The stadium and field have been renovated and leased by the Paints organization. Patients got phones in their individual rooms in 1995. Shuttle service between Chillicothe, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton started in 1996.

Another turning point during the 1990s was the addition of Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), which allowed VA to expand the availability of healthcare to Veterans living in rural areas. Clinics were opened in Athens (1997), Portsmouth (1998), Lancaster (2000), Marietta (2001) and Cambridge (2004). This eliminated the need for Veterans to travel to the main medical center campus to routine appointments. Our latest expansion was in 2010, when the Wilmington Outreach Clinic was opened to provide primary care for Veterans.

A new outpatient addition was dedicated in the last year of the twentieth century. The addition allowed for consolidation of services into one area, making accessibility to treatment easier for our Veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs

In 1989, the VA gained cabinet status in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government and was renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs. After years of operating as individual hospitals in regions across the country, the agency was revamped in 1996 into 22 (now 21) Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN). Each Network operates as a supportive cluster of VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics. The Chillicothe VA Medical Center is a member of VISN 10, the VA Healthcare System of Ohio, which also includes the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton VA Campuses.

Our past has played a significant role in the community, in the agency, and in the health and well being of our nation's Veterans. We continue to strive to "care for him who shall have borne the battle" and we look forward to providing the very best "Healthcare for Heroes".

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 military forces.

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (1865-1930)

Birds-eye-view of the Togus, Maine National Home campus

Eastern Branch National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, Maine, 1891.

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 to provide civilian medical care to Veterans of temporary volunteer forces.

Two earlier soldiers’ homes, operated by the U.S. Army and Navy for Veterans of the Regular military forces, were very small and housed only up to 300 men each. The National Homes housed ten of thousands of Veterans. The National Homes were often called “soldiers’ homes” or “military homes.” Initially only Civil War soldiers and sailors who served honorably with the Union forces—including U.S. Colored Troops—were eligible for admittance. The first National Home, now VA’s oldest hospital, opened near Augusta, Maine, on November 1, 1866. They provided medical care and long-term housing for thousands of Civil War Veterans.

View of the seal for The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers dated March 3, 1865

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 original National Homes have operated continuously since they opened.

View of the front facade of the hospital at the National Military Home in Dayton, Ohio

Hospital, Central Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Dayton, Ohio, 1912.

Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Public Health Service, & Federal Board of Vocational Education (1917-1922)

For nearly five years three separate federal programs, two of which were under the Treasury Department, provided benefits exclusively to World War I Veterans. In 1921, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Public Health Service Veterans’ hospitals, and Rehabilitation Division of the Federal Board of Vocational Education were consolidated to form one agency.

Veterans Bureau (1921-1930)

View of the seal of the Veterans Bureau dated 1921

On August 9, 1921, Congress created the Veterans Bureau by combining three World War I Veterans programs into one bureau. The Veterans Bureau and National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers worked cooperatively to provide medical care to all Veterans at this time.

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 who served in World War I were authorized, for the first time in history, to apply for American citizenship due to a law enacted on November 6, 1919, making them eligible for full Veterans benefits, including health care. The first segregated federal Veterans hospital opened under the Veterans Bureau on February 12, 1923, in Tuskegee, Alabama. In 1924, Veterans’ benefits were liberalized for the second time in history to cover disabilities that were not service-related. In 1928, admission to Veterans Bureau hospitals and National Homes was fully 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.

View of the seal of the Veterans Administration dated 1930

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, but many were later shelved, when VA’s budget was cut to help fund U.S. Cold War programs. During the 1950s VA’s cooperative research studies led to discoveries about cancer, diabetes, chemotherapy, nuclear medicine, and helped to diminish the spread of tuberculosis.

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. Dr. Ferid Murad (Palo Alto VAMC) received a Nobel Prize in 1998 for his discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. 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 full effect on March 15, 1989, when the Veterans Administration was renamed as the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA’s first Secretary after the elevation, Ed Derwinski, insisted that the “VA” acronym be retained since it have been a familiar part of American culture for more than 50 years

VA’s Department of Medicine and Surgery was re-designated as the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, as part of the elevation, and on May 7, 1991, was renamed as 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.

Department of Veterans Affairs seal

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 has roots spanning over 150 years and 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.

In recent years VHA has opened more outpatient clinics, established telemedicine, vet centers, and suicide prevention hotlines, and developed other services to accommodate a diverse and ever-changing Veteran population. VHA continually evolves and cultivates on-going cutting-edge medical research and innovation to improve the lives of America’s patriots.