St. Cloud VA Health Care System
National Register of Historic Places
Six months after the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, Congress authorized a new array of benefits specifically for World War I Veterans, which included women, Native Americans, National Guard, and militia Veterans. These new comprehensive benefits exceeded those previously provided to Veterans of America's earlier wars and included disability compensation, life insurance for service personnel and Veterans, medical and dental care, hospitals and clinics, vocational training and rehabilitation for the disabled, prosthetics, and burial benefits.
Eligible Veterans of all American wars prior to 1917 continued to receive benefits from the Pension Bureau (Interior Department), National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and War Department.
By the war’s end in November 1918, three new federal agencies administered a majority of benefits to World War I Veterans exclusively: the Bureau of War Risk Insurance (Treasury Department), Public Health Service (Treasury Department), and Federal Board of Vocational Education. In March 1919, the largest federal hospital construction program in history (at that time) was authorized by Congress in order to provide medical facilities for World War I Veterans. World War I Veterans received medical care and rehabilitation at National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (origins of VA health care), military hospitals, Marine hospitals, and hundreds of civilian hospitals until construction of new World War I Veterans hospitals was completed.
The Federal Board of Hospitalization and the American College of Surgeons determined that the new federal World War I Veterans hospitals should be classified as one of three types: general medical and surgical, tuberculosis, or neuropsychiatric. The first World War I Veterans hospital opened at Palo Alto, California, at the Army’s former Camp Fremont, on April 1, 1919. On August 9, 1921, the first consolidation of federal Veterans benefits took place when the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Public Health Service Veterans’ hospitals, and the Rehabilitation Division of the Federal Board of Vocational Education were merged to form the Veterans Bureau.
Public Act 194 of the 67th Congress, also referred to as the second Langley Bill, was approved by Congress on April 20, 1922 and called for an appropriation of $17 million for the construction of twelve Veterans hospitals. A 500-bed neuropsychiatric hospital for Veterans Bureau District No. 10, which included the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, was authorized as part of that law. Local efforts to secure land near St. Cloud for the proposed hospital were led by boosters Mr. and Mrs. J.P. McDowell. The St. Cloud Commercial Club staged a pledge drive in the summer of 1922 and raised upwards of $60,000 for the acquisition of 310 acres of farmland on the Sauk River. Deeds for the property, comprised of tracts owned by A.C. Cooper, E.P. Schwab, J.B. Murphy, and B. Lammerson, were obtained and forwarded to the U.S. Veterans Bureau.
The initial twelve buildings of the St. Cloud campus were designed, with construction supervised by, the Department of the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks for the Veterans Bureau. U.S. Veterans Bureau Hospital No. 101 at St. Cloud was officially dedicated by Veterans Bureau Director, General Frank T. Hines, on September 17, 1924. The St. Cloud facility was the first federal hospital for disabled Veterans to be constructed in the Veterans Bureau’s tenth district. Dr. Hans Hansen was St. Cloud’s first hospital director. On September 24, 1924, Eddie Lomacks was admitted as the hospital’s first patient. Lomacks remained a resident of the hospital until his death on January 21, 1964.
World War I was the first fully mechanized war, and as a result, soldiers who were exposed to mustard gas, other chemicals and fumes required specialized care after the war. Tuberculosis and neuro-psychiatric hospitals opened to accommodate Veterans with respiratory or mental health problems. A majority of existing VA hospitals and medical centers began as National Home, Public Health Service, or, as was the case at St. Cloud, as Veterans Bureau hospitals.
In 1923, women Veterans were admitted to the National Homes for the first time in history. The World War Act in 1924 opened the doors of Veterans Bureau hospitals to women and Veterans benefits were liberalized for the second time history to cover disabilities that were not service-related.
The second consolidation of federal Veterans programs took place on July 21, 1930, when President Herbert Hoover signed Executive Order 5398. The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and Pension Bureau (Interior Dept.) were merged with the Veterans Bureau, elevated as a federal administration, and renamed as the Veterans Administration.
The inter-war period saw rapid expansion of the original St. Cloud campus as additional lands were acquired and several new buildings were constructed. Approximately 1,300 Veterans were receiving care at the St. Cloud hospital in May 1947. At that time, the facility consisted of forty-seven buildings on 577 acres, and employed a work force of 860.
While in the midst of World War II, Congress authorized some of the most significant Veteran benefits in history as part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Commonly known as the “G.I. Bill,” signed on June 22, 1944, the law extended some of the nation’s oldest Veterans’ benefits - such as disability and widows pensions - along with new ones, to those who served in World War II. It is said the GI Bill had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act of 1862 and helped create America’s middle class. The GI Bill placed VA second to the War and Navy Departments in funding and personnel priorities.
Modernizing VA for a new generation of Veterans in a world that had entered the nuclear age was crucial and replacement of the “Old Guard” World War I leadership became a necessity. In 1945 General Omar Bradley was appointed by President Harry Truman to lead VA into the modern era. With General Bradley at the helm, VA formally established its Department of Medicine and Surgery which led to groundbreaking changes such as medical school affiliations, internships and residency programs, medical and prosthetic research, nuclear medicine, training programs for psychiatrists, and much more. Since changes implemented under Bradley in 1945-47, VA has become a world leader in medical scientific research, prosthetics, and Veterans’ health care.
Out of more than 200 hospitals that VA has operated since 1866 (includes predecessors), the St. Cloud VA Medical Center is one of only 30 World War I veterans hospitals still standing. Its stately and inspiring Classical Revival architecture are iconic symbols that embody the grand ideals and aspirations of our nation, while reflecting our government’s values, dedication, and commitment to its patriots, in those years immediately after World War I.
The St. Cloud VA Hospital Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 21, 2012, because of its significance to the history and evolution of American medicine and Veterans care, its representation of World War I-era federal architecture, and its role in providing quality health care to World War I Veterans after the war. Thousands of Veterans from Minnesota received neuropsychiatric care from 1923 to 1950. Since 1950 it has served thousands of American Veterans from modern-era wars. The St. Cloud VA Hospital Historic District continues to serve as a physical reminder of medical care provided by the federal government through the Veterans Bureau and the VA to 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.