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VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System


Our History


Historic image of Leavenworth VAMC. Click for larger image. 

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center had its beginning in 1884. The City of Leavenworth was notified that the Board of Managers for the National Home accepted its offer of 640 acres of land and $50,000 for use in developing the site for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

The first member to be admitted to the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was a Union Army soldier in July 1885. By 1886, 17 buildings had been completed by Mr. James McGonigle, a Leavenworth contractor. The 13 barracks housed over 1,000 men and the mess hall could feed them all at one sitting. On most Sundays, you could find most of the citizens of Leavenworth sitting on the banks of Lake Jeanette listening to music from the bandstand on the lake.

In the early 1900's, the character of the Home reflected a military atmosphere. All members were required to wear uniforms, obey the Rules and Articles of War, and hold military formations. The station was quite independent, due to the fact it had its own dairy herd and vegetable garden. Eventually, a decision was made that since the Home was in direct competition with local merchants, it should purchase necessary commodities rather than produce its own.

The VA Medical Center existed as a Home under the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers from 1885 until 1930. In 1930, Congress authorized the President to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The Home became one of a number of field stations which were merged into a new federal government agency known as the Veterans Administration.

The VA began placing more emphasis on hospital facilities, so construction of a new hospital was started in 1930 and completed in 1933. The VA hospital in Kansas City, Missouri was officially closed and all veterans in the area were to be treated at the Leavenworth VA Hospital.

Immediately following WWII, the medical center had an excess of 1,000 beds in general medical and psychiatry with an average of 814 in the Domiciliary care. In 1944, the VA closed the Domiciliary and changed the mission of the Leavenworth VA to help those soldiers returning from WWII with psychiatric problems. In 1946, the VA again changed the mission to medical care and reopened the Domiciliary.

In 1955, the military atmosphere was officially discontinued and the VA launched a new program of planned living to rehabilitate aging and aged veterans in its Domiciliary homes.

In 1985, the Leavenworth VA operated a 447-bed hospital, a 45-bed nursing home, and a 650-bed domiciliary. All but the most complicated medical and surgical specialties were covered in-house, with the rest of the specialties within easy reach of Kansas City. On March 15, 1989, the Veterans Administration was elevated to cabinet status, becoming the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Today the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center has a 38-bed hospital, a 40-bed nursing home, a 150-bed domiciliary, and has over 100,000 outpatient visits a year. The Veterans' Health Care Reform Act of 1996 has moved the VA from a large inpatient complex serving only service connected injuries to a more flexible outpatient facility that provides excellent health care as part of a benefits package that emphasizes preventive and primary care.

The VA has also established Community Based Outpatient Clinics, which take health care closer to veterans. There are about 735 employees at Leavenworth serving more veterans than ever before. Dwight D. Eisenhower VAMC and the Colmery-O'Neil VAMC were integrated in 1998 forming the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System.

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)

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.

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.

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

National Military Home Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, 1912.

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.