Wilmington VA Medical Center
President Harry S. Truman approved establishment of a Veterans Administration hospital at Wilmington, Delaware in May 1946. Shortly thereafter, the former Army Air Corps Hospital at New Castle Air Base (today the New Castle County Airport) was taken over by the VA as a temporary installation. On August 26, 1946, the first patients were admitted and were treated by a staff itself comprised of 77% Veterans of the Armed Forces.
By February 1947, bed capacity had increased to 150 beds. Approximately ¾ of the patients treated were World War II participants. Meanwhile, activity continued toward construction of a permanent building, with groundbreaking in March 1948.
Formal dedication of the new 336-bed VA hospital was held on April 2, 1950. The ninth VA hospital to open after World War II ended, Wilmington's facility at the 32-acre site on the edge of Elsmere, DE, was but one of 32 new VA hospitals or major additions scheduled for completion in 1950 alone. A few months later, the Korean War began.
In 1954, residual outpatient activities conducted at downtown Wilmington's Dravo Building were relocated to the hospital. Remaining VA Regional Office (VARO) non-medical benefit processing completed the transfer to the hospital site by November 1960. Complete administrative consolidation occurred on January 24, 1971, when medical and regional office functions were joined under a single Director to become the Wilmington VA Medical and Regional Office Center. Consolidated one-stop service was now possible for war Veterans throughout Delaware, eastern Maryland, southern New Jersey, and southeast Pennsylvania.
With the Vietnam War era, new offices to handle the VARO workload were erected in front of the hospital building. Dedication was held on Veterans Day 1972, when another specialized Research Building was also dedicated. The Research Building was the site of a unique Solar Demonstration Project, first installed in 1977 for the building's heating and cooling needs. Wilmington was also the site of one of the first Thermal Storage Demonstration projects. The system provided cooling by making ice at night (during off peak hours) and utilizing the system for cooling during the day, a cost effective way of providing air conditioning services.
This project was used for the Center's next addition for patient care when the Nursing Home Care Unit was opened in September 1978. The 60-bed Nursing Home Care Unit adjoins the hospital with private lounges, rehabilitation therapy and recreation areas, an attractive dining room, and homelike environment for residents.
In 1980, Readjustment Counseling Services initiated storefront Vet Centers for Veterans of the Vietnam War. A second Vet Center opened in Linwood, NJ in 1985 soon joined by a VA Health Screening Clinic in 1986. In 1987, Wilmington became the only facility in the system to provide health, benefits, and readjustment counseling services at a single site when the Wilmington Vet Center became the first to move onto hospital grounds. This arrangement is still unique in the system and has worked very well in supporting the changing needs of the Veterans served.
In the summer of 1986, the Center began providing health-screening services to Veterans living in southern Delaware through the Traveling Nurse program. Initially visiting various service organizations in Kent and Sussex counties one day a week, this program has expanded to reach more Veterans who lived at a distance from the main hospital facility.
In 1991, outreach efforts in New Jersey extended into Vineland when the NJ Veterans Memorial Home provided space for a VA presence. This clinic provided health screening to veterans in that area. In 1995, the site of the NJ Vet Center and Health Screening Clinic was moved from Linwood to Ventnor. This location was more convenient to public transportation and was located more closely to a population of veterans currently not using VA services. In 1998, Wilmington opened its first congressionally approved Community Based Outpatient Clinic in southern Delaware. Primary care is provided under a contractual arrangement with a community provider to serve Veterans living in this area, more than 2 hours one way from the main campus.
Along with the changing Veteran population, medical advances and changes in treatment modalities have made significant alterations in the way care is provided. Initially supporting 336 beds and 5000 outpatient visits a year, the Center now staffs 58 acute beds and 60 Nursing Home beds. More than 22,000 veterans are treated at the facility and account for over 150,000 outpatient visits.
To meet the changing needs, construction and renovation have been the bywords over the last 10 years. Patient privacy, ward renovations, halls and walls, negative pressure rooms, and dietetic projects completely refurbished most of the main hospital building. Bedside telephones and televisions were installed throughout the hospital. In early 1997, Wilmington opened its Outpatient Clinical Addition, a 66,000 square foot addition to manage the increasing outpatient activities. An additional 33,000 square foot of existing space was renovated as primary care came into practice.
Medical technology has also grown by leaps and bounds. A digital radiology system eliminates the need for x-ray films and provides the image for providers to see on their clinical workstations. Computerization has also been fast paced, as the medical record is now computerized. Orders are entered into the computer, as are consults, progress notes, and all lab and radiology test results. Medications are administered using a computerized bar code medication administration system to enhance patient safety.
Wilmington is proud of its medical affiliations with top medical schools, supporting the VA's educational mission. Major medical affiliations are maintained with Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the University of Maryland. Allied affiliations support programs in nursing, dental technology, dietetics, social work, and pharmacy. More than 200 medical residents receive part of their training at this facility every year.
The facility maintains its accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, documenting Wilmington's commitment to quality care. We are fully accredited as a cancer center.
In June 2003, the Veterans Benefits Administration functions in the Regional Office were administratively realigned under the Philadelphia Regional Office and Insurance Center, returning Wilmington to its Veterans Health Administration designation as a Medical Center, rather than the combined VHA/VBA designation as a VAMROC. This realignment should be transparent to the Veterans served as Wilmington continues to work closely with the Regional Office to provide quality services in a timely manner.
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.