VA Puget Sound Health Care System
American Lake Division
The American Lake campus began in 1923 as the 94th Veterans Hospital to be built by the War Department for the provision of care to World War I Veterans. The Secretary of the Army authorized, under a revocable license, the Veteran Bureau's use of 377 acres of the 87,000 acre Fort Lewis property. The Hurley-Mason Company was awarded contracts for the construction of the facility and work was soon started on Veterans Hospital Number 94.
A site chosen on the western shores of American Lake soon became home for the new buildings of Spanish American architecture. Many of the stucco and terra cotta buildings are listed on the National Register of Historical Buildings, and are still enjoyed by both patients and staff for their esthetic beauty.
The medical center was dedicated in 1924 and chartered with a single mission - neuro-psychiatric treatment. On March 15, 1924, the first 50 patients were admitted to the hospital, by transfer, from Western State Hospital at Fort Steilacoom.
Over the years, American Lake grew from its original mission of a neuro-psychiatric facility, to a multi-care facility. In the 1960's and 1970's Ambulatory Surgical Services, a 76-bed Nursing Home Unit, Blind Rehabilitation Services, a Substance Abuse Treatment Program, and a 60-bed homeless Domiciliary were added to expand the scope of care to Veterans.
In the 1980's and 1990's, additional special programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation, a Residential Care Program, and a Post Traumatic Stress Treatment Program were added. In 1998, Building 81 was renovated and an addition added that allowed for relocation and expansion of Primary Care Services and a Women's Health Clinic.
Ongoing remodeling, upgrading and expansion of the facilities will occur while preserving the historical character of this beautiful campus.
After the end of World War II, the VA found it necessary to locate a facility in the booming metropolis of Seattle to accommodate many returning war Veterans.
The Seattle Division was constructed from 1949 to 1951, on a 44-acre site that had been a part of Jefferson Park. The site was dedicated on May 15, 1951, on Beacon Hill, with views of downtown Seattle and the Puget Sound to the North and Northwest; Mt. Rainier and the Cascade mountain range to the South and Southeast.
In 1967, a research wing was added as well as a new patient care facility in 1985. A portion of Building 18 was remodeled in 1997 for the General Internal Medicine Clinic to be used as a primary and managed care facility.
Today, we're undergoing an unprecedented phase of remodeling and expansion at Seattle to better serve our Veterans.
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.