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 military 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 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.