Our History - VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
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VA Salt Lake City Health Care System

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Our History

A Historical Account of the Salt Lake City VA Hospitals

"Serving Veterans for more than 80 years"
Veterans Administration Hospital located on 12th Avenue in Salt Lake City. Date of photo is early 1930's. 
Veterans Administration Hospital located on 12th Avenue in
Salt Lake City.  Date of photo is early 1930’s.
1932 - 1961
The first Veterans Administration Hospital admitted its first patient July 5, 1932 at 12th Avenue and E Street. The cost of the building and equipment was about $500,000. There was space for 104 general medical and surgical beds as well as space for Regional Office functions.

With the release of men from the Armed Forces at the end of World War II, this facility, like all facilities in the Veterans Administration, was suddenly confronted with a marked increase in workload. Desks were set up in corridors. A number of substandard emergency beds were added reaching a total of 204 beds in 1946. Later, this number was reduced to 194 beds. In late 1945 and early 1946 plans were formulated for the hospital to become affiliated with the University of Utah, College of Medicine. This became an effective relationship during the spring and summer of 1946.

Because of space needs for beds and medical activities, plans were made to remove the Regional Office functions from this facility to a General Services Administration building on Redwood Road. This move was accomplished gradually during the spring and summer months of 1946.

During the next few years, the relationship with the Medical school became a close one. In addition to providing a panel of well-qualified consultants and attending in the various medical specialties, residency training programs were established in various medical and surgical specialties. An internship program was instituted and clinical clerkships were set up first on the Medical Service and at a later date on the Surgical Service.

While all of this was happening the President of the United State was approving a resolution authorizing the construction of a 500 bed neuropsychiatric hospital in or near Salt Lake City. A resolution adopted by the Federal Board of Hospitalization dated September 10, 1946 and approved by the President on September 26, 1946. It authorized the Veterans Administration to acquire, by transfer from the War Department, a tract of land of approximately 260 acres of the Fort Douglas Military Reservation. This reservation, first known as Camp Douglas, dates back to 1867. In a letter dated January 11, 1948, the Secretary of the Army advised of the transfer of two parcels of land to the Veterans Administration.

Veterans Administration Hospital Located on Foothill Drive in Salt Lake City. Date of photo is early 1950's. 
Veterans Administration Hospital located on Foothill Drive
in Salt Lake City.  Date of photo is early 1950’s.
Construction was started in March 1950, and completed in June 1952. Dr. Albert H. Fechner was appointed as the manager on April 10, 1952. The first patients were admitted on September 4, 1952, and the hospital was formally dedicated September 14, 1952. The construction cost was slightly over $8,000,000. Equipment amounted to approximately an additional million dollars. The original bed capacity was 546, which included 154 beds for tuberculosis psychiatric patients. The hospital was planned to care for veterans with psychiatric disorders from the state of Utah, eastern half of Nevada, southern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming and western Colorado. Prior to the construction of the Fort Douglas hospital, Utah veterans had to go to hospitals in Sheridan, Wyoming and Fort Lyon, Colorado.

For the first time the veterans in this area had complete hospital facilities without having to go to distant hospitals for treatment. The 12th avenue and E Street hospital provided facilities for acute general medical and surgical cases and the Fort Douglas hospital provided facilities for psychiatric, neurological, and tuberculosis patients.

On September 1, 1955, Central Office affected an administrative consolidation of the 12th Avenue and E Street hospital and the new Fort Douglas hospital.

The Fort Douglas hospital has been affiliated with the University Of Utah College Of Medicine since its activation. In the fall of 1953, the hospital established an affiliation with the Graduate School of Social Work of the University of Utah for training of students enrolled in that school. In the fall of 1954, the hospital affiliated with the University’s Department of Psychology for the training of university students enrolled in Psychology. In the fall of 1961, the hospital established an affiliation with the University Of Utah College Of Nursing, first, in psychiatry and later in general medicine and surgery. All of the training programs affiliated with the University of Utah have been extremely active ones. A very high percent of the VA staff has faculty appointments at the University.

On September 1, 1955 the 12th Avenue and E Street hospital and the Fort Douglas hospital were administratively consolidated and placed under single management. Since the 12th Avenue hospital was not large enough to handle all of the general medical and surgical needs in this area, more and more medical and surgical functions were being carried out at the Fort Douglas hospital. The point was reached where one third or more of the medical and surgical patients were being cared for at the Fort Douglas unit.

In the spring of 1961, Central Office made the decision to consolidate all hospital functions at the Fort Douglas location and to declare the 12th Avenue and E Street facility excess to Veterans Administration needs. However, before this could be accomplished, it was necessary for the operating room suite at the Fort Douglas hospital to be enlarged and modernized. This was accomplished and on February 15, 1962, all of the patients at 12th Avenue were transferred to Fort Douglas. On that date the 12th Avenue hospital ceased to function as a medical institution for the care and treatment of patients. In the nearly three decades of the service to veterans in this area, the 12th Avenue hospital admitted 56,336 patients.

1961 - Present 
 Photo of front entrance of Veterans Administration Hospital in Salt Lake City. Date of photo is early 1960's. 
Photo of front entrance of Veterans Administration Hospital
in Salt Lake City.  Date of photo is early 1960’s.
More Facts about the Medical Center

Nuclear Veterans started here. A veteran with Leukemia called KUTV channel 2 and told them that he was in the army and one day they went out in to the desert and watched an open air nuclear explosion from not too far away. Then they were marched through ground zero. After telling his story the cause of nuclear veterans became a national issue.
This was originally a TB and psychiatric facility which explains the tunnels. They were used to contain the patients. Also there was a golf course, swimming pool, bowling alley, barber shop and theatre for 1st run Hollywood movies and USO shows.

Our facility is famous!

Several movies and TV shows have been shot here:

Stephen King’s “The Stand” used our hospital for medical shots in the first parts of the mini series. One of our lab investigators was asked to check out a set up for a scene they were about to shoot in the lab. He looked and corrected the set up so that it would be chemically correct. After the scene was shot a man from the production came up to him and thanked him for making sure the portrayal was accurate. That man was Stephen King himself.
“Touched by an Angel” was shot here for years
One of the “Halloween” movies used our tunnels.

Our Olympic Moment: The Secret Service used the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center during the 2002 Olympic Games. It was also the staging area for bomb sniffing dogs and some our state National Guard Soldiers. We also had VA emergency response teams standing by just in case along with a full decontamination station set up in our Emergency Department.

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.