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VA Maine Healthcare System

 

Our History

First in the Nation and still setting the Standard of Care!


A HISTORY OF TOGUS 1866-PRESENT

In 1865 near end of the Civil War, President Lincoln signed an act creating the National Asylum (later changed to Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The Eastern Branch at Togus, Maine was the first of the new homes to open in November 1866. The name "Togus" comes from the Native American name Worromongtogus, which means "mineral water".

The Togus property was originally a summer resort known as Togus Springs. It was owned and operated by Horace Beals, a wealthy granite merchant from Rockland, Maine who hoped to establish a second "Saratoga Springs" type resort. He spent more than $250,000 on a hotel, stables, bowling alley, farmhouse, bathing house, race track and driveways. The resort opened in 1859 but failed during the Civil War and closed in 1863. Beals died shortly after this business failure and the government bought the land and buildings for $50,000.

The first veteran was admitted to Togus on November 10, 1866. The veteran population of the home remained under 400 until a building program began in 1868 which provided housing 3,000 veterans. The home was organized much like a military camp with the men living in barracks and wearing modified Army uniforms. Although a 100 bed hospital was completed in 1870, medical care at the home was limited, even by the standards of the day.

In 1890, a narrow gauge railroad from the Kennebec River in Randolph and an electric trolley line from Augusta were completed and Togus became a popular excursion spot for Sunday picnics. There were frequent band concerts, a zoo, a hotel and a theater which brought shows directly from Broadway.

Togus became a Veterans Administration facility following the Consolidation Act of July 1930 which joined all agencies providing benefits to veterans and their dependents. Most buildings which make up our present facility were constructed in the following decade. Togus' role gradually changed from a domiciliary or home to a full-service medical center with the greatest change occurring after World War II due to the large number of returning veterans requiring medical care.

In 1989, VA was designated a cabinet-level agency and became the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, onboard Togus VA campus is a Medical Center, a Regional Office and a National Cemetery. The Medical Center, has a staff of over 1,050 personnel representing various disciplines. It has 67 in-patient beds and 100 beds in the Nursing Home Care Units which provide for long-term care as well as Alzheimer's/ dementia. Currently there are six community based outpatient clinics (CBOC) located throughout Maine and provide local services to veterans. These CBOCs include Bangor, Calais, Caribou, Lincoln, Rumford and Saco and there are also VA Mental Health Clinics in Bangor and Portland. Togus VA Medical Center's current structure shows the VA's focus on increased outpatient health care while also raising overall quality indicators.

Togus VA staff have a strong commitment to provide the highest quality care in the most economical manner possible. To do this, they have a quality assurance program where managers are responsible for reviewing the quality of care provided, potential risks and cost effectiveness. The purpose of this review is to identify opportunities for continued improvement. The medical center is fully accredited by the Joint Commission.

The Regional Office, serving the entire state of Maine, is located on the Togus VA campus and provides services for veterans and their families in compensation and pension and other non-medical benefits.

The National Cemetery, the only national cemetery in Maine, is now inactive but well-kept and is the final resting place for 5,373 veterans from the War of 1812 through the Korean War. It was first opened in 1867 and was closed to new burials in 1961. Togus National Cemetery

In 2000, the Beals House opened to provide temporary no-cost accommodations for families of in-patient Togus veterans. A former on-campus home for senior VA staff, it was donated to the non-profit agency which now operates it. It has served more than 1,800 families since it was renovated for family members and placed in operation.
 

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)

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 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.

View of the seal for The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers dated March 3, 1865

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.

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

Hospital, Central Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Dayton, Ohio, 1912.

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)

View of the seal of the Veterans Bureau dated 1921

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.

View of the seal of the Veterans Administration dated 1930

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.

Department of Veterans Affairs seal

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.