National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was established on March 3, 1865, in the United States by Congress to provide care for volunteer soldiers who had been disabled through loss of limb, wounds, disease, or injury during service in the Union forces in the Civil War. Initially, the Asylum, later called the Home, was planned to have three branches: in the northeast, in the central area north of the Ohio River and in what was then still considered the northwest, the present upper Midwest. The Board of Managers, charged with governance of the Home, added seven more branches between 1870 and 1907 as broader eligibility requirements allowed more veterans to apply for admission. The impact of World War I, producing a new veteran population of over five million men and women, brought dramatic changes to the National Home and all over governmental agencies responsible for veteran's benefits. The creation of the Veterans Administration in 1930 consolidated all veteran's programs into a single Federal agency. World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom further increased the responsibility of the nation to care for those who have served their country.
Beginning of the National Home
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was originally called the National Asylum in the legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in March, 1865. The term "asylum" was used in the 19th century for institutions caring for dependent members of society, such as the insane and the poor, who temporarily suffered from conditions that could hopefully be cured or corrected. However, the term had negative connotations which the Board of Managers, in the early years of the National Asylum, did not want attached by the deserving disabled veterans of the Union Army. In January 1873, the name of the institution was changed to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, the small number of Veterans of American Wars had three sources of assistance from the Federal government. The vast amounts of land under the control of the government were offered to Veterans as land grants for their support after service. The land grant system also benefited the government in encouraging Veterans and their families to settle in undeveloped territories of the new nation. In 1833, the Federal government established the Bureau of Pensions which made small cash payments to veterans; the low numbers of the veteran population and the more attractive the offer of free land kept the pension system relatively small unit after the Civil War.
The United States Navy had been authorized by Congress to establish a permanent shelter for its veterans in 1811, with construction eventually being undertaken in 1827. The United States Sailors' Home, located in Philadelphia as part of the Navy Yard, was occupied in 1833. The idea of a similar institution for the Army was raised by the Secretary of War, James Barbour, in 1827, however, lack of interest and lack of funding on the part of Congress, delayed action on the realization of a soldiers' home. In 1851, legislation introduced by Jefferson Davis, senator from Mississippi and former secretary of war as well as a graduate from West Point, was enacted by Congress and funds were appropriated for the creation of the United States Soldiers’ Home. The Soldiers’ Home was open to all men who were regular or volunteer members of the army with twenty years service and had contributed to its support through pay contributions.
When the Soldiers’ Home was being organized in 1851 and 1852, it was intended to have at least four branches, and its organization and administration were based on the army’s command structure and staffed with regular army officers. The Soldiers’ Home was managed by a board of commissioners, although drawn from army officers; each branch had a governor, deputy governor, and secretary-treasure; the members were organized into companies and the daily routine followed the military schedule; all members wore uniforms; and workshops were provided for members wanting or required to work. When the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was being organized in 1866, the National Soldiers’ Home assisted the asylum’s board by explaining its regulations and offering suggestions.
The Civil War was the first experience in the history of the United States that was truly national in involvement of its citizens and in the impact on daily life in communities in both the north and the south. The Civil War was a war of volunteers, both military and civilian. Very early in the war, it became clear to social leaders in the North that new programs were required to deliver medical care to the wounded beyond what was available through the official military structure.
The leading civilian organization was the United States Sanitary Commission which had secured permission from President Lincoln in the summer of 1861 to deliver medical supplies to the battle front, to build adequate field hospitals staffed with volunteer nurses (mostly women), and to raise funds to support the commission’s programs. As the war continued, civilian leaders began to address the issue of caring for the larger number of veterans who would require assistance once the war ended. The Sanitary commission favored the pension system rather than permanent institutional care for the disabled veteran; the commission feared that a permanent institution would be nothing more than a poorhouse for veterans. Other groups were as strongly in favor of the establishment of a soldiers’ asylum as the Sanitary Commission as opposed to the concept. All the groups gathered information on European military asylums, particularly the Invalides in Paris, to use in either opposing or supporting the creation of a disabled volunteer soldiers’ asylum.
When President Lincoln signed legislation creating the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in March, 1865, the nation was in a period of heightened emotional response to the approaching peace. The victory of the Union was seen as the triumph of the nation, and the creation of a national institution to serve the defenders of the Union was an affirmation of that national victory. At the time of its creation, the supporters of the National Asylum probably had only limited awareness of the number of veterans who could potentially become members of the national Asylum. The number of troops which fought for the Union would have indicated the potential membership, over 2,000,000 men, a third of the white men of military age served in the Union Army(13 to 43 years old in 1860). If the number of men who were disabled in service through loss of limb, wounds, or disease equaled the sixth that died in the war, the number eligible for admission to the National Asylum would have been over 300,000.
Board of Managers (1866–1916)
Even with the establishment of the National Asylum by law in 1865, the institution experienced difficulties in being realized. The original corporation charged with its organization could not secure a quorum after a year in existence. In March 1866, new legislation replaced the 100-member corporation with a twelve-member board of managers; this group had to select the sites, common construction projects, and designate local officials while serving as unpaid volunteers of an independent Federal agency. The managers of the Asylum looked to past models and local efforts to guide the creation of the institution.
The Board of Managers of the National Asylum met for the first time in Washington, D.C. on May 16, 1866. The principal concern of the Board was the selection of sites for the three branches of the national institution, based on geographic distribution. They established criteria for site evaluation: a healthy site with fresh air and ample water supply, located 3 to 5 miles (8.0 km) from a city on a tract of at least 200 acres (0.81 km2), connected to the city by a railroad. The Board issued a bulletin to newspapers and to governors of the northern states requesting proposals for sites to be donated or sold for the purpose of erecting branches. Proposals were due before July 12. In addition, the Board advertised for plans, specifications, and estimates for the construction of asylum buildings.
At the September 1866 Board meeting, General Benjamin Butler, the President of the Board, proposed the purchase of a bankrupt resort at Togus, Maine, near Augusta, as the eastern branch of the Asylum. In regards to a Milwaukee location or a northwestern branch, the Board directed that an Executive Committee visit the city to select a site. Possible locations for a central branch were discussed.
At the December 7, 1866 meeting of the Board, the Executive Committee announced its approval of a Milwaukee location, and was directed by the Board to return to Milwaukee to purchase a site and make arrangements for the construction of asylum buildings and the transfer of veterans currently housed in the Wisconsin Soldiers' Home in Milwaukee, operated by the Lady Managers of the Home Society. At the same meeting, the Board approved the purchase of the Togus site, although veterans had already been moved into the former hotel on the site in November 1866. The Central Branch location, Dayton, Ohio, was not selected until September 1867.
The selection of the sites for the three branches was based on three motivations: practical, political and economic. First, the Board needed a site that could be used immediately before the second winter after the war, and before the time of the November 1866 elections. The Togus site, having been a resort, had a sufficient number of the appropriate type of buildings for housing the disabled veterans. The Central Branch site as Dayton satisfied the powerful Ohio faction in Congress, as well as the numerous Union generals from Ohio, particularly William Tecumseh Sherman. The Northwestern Branch at Milwaukee had been an economic success for the Board of Mangers which had received a large cash donation from the Ladies Mangers to purchase a site and have funds left to begin construction.
As the first buildings at the Northwestern Branch were being completed in 1867–1869, the Board of Managers acknowledged a rapid increase in membership by concentrating building efforts at the Central Branch, and in rebuilding facilities at the Eastern Branch which had been destroyed by fire in 1868. Even though membership had increased in the first few years the Asylum was open, the Board felt membership would soon begin to decline. The Board based this on the belief that any veteran who needed the Asylum had already entered it and that as members regained their health or learned new work skills, they would leave the Asylum. In 1868, the Board adopted a resolution that limited the number of branches to the three existing ones. However, problems with the construction of the Main Building at the Northwestern Branch and concern over the harsh winters at both the Northwestern and Eastern branches led the Board to open a fourth branch in 1870, at a site in a warmer climate, with existing buildings for immediate use.
The Southern Branch of the National Asylum was established in October 1870, with the Board's purchase of the Chesapeake Female College at Hampton, Virginia. The main building of this new branch had been dedicated in 1854, as the principal structure of the college; after its use as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops, the college did not reopen. The reuse of existing facilities for a National Home branch followed the precedent established four years earlier with the purchase of the resort at Togus for the Eastern Branch.
The Southern Branch was created to provide a facility for older members in the milder climate, to house black members who the board felt would be more accustomed to a southern location, and to be associated with Fort Monroe, adjacent to the new branch site. The Federal troops at Fort Monroe and Union Veterans at the Southern Branch would establish a strong Union presence near the strategic city of Newport in the former Confederate state of Virginia.
On January 23, 1873, Congress passed a resolution changing the name of the institution to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, reflecting the increasing permanence of the institution and its membership. In 1875, the Board's report to Congress stressed the need for the construction of larger accommodations as quickly as possible. Board of Mangers The Home's growth projections by the Board showed an eventual decline in its early 1870s population due to an increase in death rate, but that this decline would be offset as more and more aging veterans applied for admission in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Major construction projects began to be undertaken at the four branches in 1875, in part to provide more housing, but also to provide more hospital facilities to meet the changing medical needs of the members.
Considering the ages for Civil War participants ranged from 13 to 43 years in 1860, the Home could have expected continuing admissions well into the 20th century. The Board indicated a new understanding of the population makeup when it recommended that Congress change the eligibility requirements for admission to the Home by allowing benefits to all destitute soldiers unable to earn a living, without having to trace their disabilities to their military service. The Board realized that denying benefits to this large group of veterans meant their only recourse was the poor house.
In 1883, the Board, recognizing the changes the Home would face with increased membership and increased medical needs of the members, conceded that an "institution like the National Home must in time become an enormous hospital", and that all new buildings for the Home must be planned with that in mind. As a result, the Board asked for Congressional appropriations to enlarge the hospital at the Central Branch and to build a new hospital at the Southern Branch. At the September 1883 Board meeting, the managers considered asking Congress for the transfer of Fort Riley, Kansas, to the Home as a new facility, as the fort was likely to be abandoned and it would be easily adaptable to Home use. The Board tabled the motion, but the issue of establishing new branches of the National Home had been raised.
On July 5, 1884, Congress approved the Board’s recommendation to change the eligibility requirements for admission, allowing veterans disabled by old age or disease to apply without having to prove any service-related disability. In effect, the Federal government assumed responsibility of providing care for the aged; what had been established as a temporary asylum for the disabled in 1866, had become a permanent home for the elderly. This legislation contained significant provisions for expansion of the National Home in authorizing the establishment of new branches west of the Mississippi and on the Pacific Coast. As a result of the Congressional act, the Home experienced a 12% membership increase almost immediately, without receiving any additional funding from Congress. The Board returned to Congress with a request for deficiency funding, arguing that the Home could either go into debt, which was illegal under its organic law, or it could discharge a large number of members to save on expenses.
Expansion at the four original branches proceeded more slowly after 1884. The 1884 board of surgeons report recommended that the Central Branch was already too large and should not be expanded; the severe climate at the Eastern and Northwestern branches should limit their growth; and the Southern branch should not grow over 1500–2000 members. The surgeons suggested that new branches were a better solution than enlarging the older ones. They also recommended that certain diseases would benefit from treatment at the various branches. The establishment of new branches in the west and one the Pacific coast also limited the expansion of the older branches.
In September 1884, the Board selected Leavenworth, Kansas, as a new location, contingent on the city donating a tract of 640 acres (2.59 km2) and $50,000 to provide for "ornamentation"; the city accepted in April 1885. At the same meeting, the Board took under consideration the establishment of a Pacific Branch in California, which opened in Santa Monica in January 1888. Even with the creation of the two new branches, the Board realized that increasing membership would continue and proposed four solutions to the problems. Additional branches could be established; existing branches could be enlarged; states could be encouraged to erect state soldiers' homes through partial funding from the Federal government; and outdoor relief to veterans could be increased.
Congress responded by establishing a new branch in Grant County, Indiana, on March 23, 1888, with an initial appropriation of $200,000, with the residents of the county providing natural gas supply sufficient for the heating and lighting of the facility. The site which was selected was in the vicinity of Marion, Indiana, and the branch was called the Marion Branch. The Marion Branch was the seventh of ten homes and one sanatorium that were built between 1867 and 1902. These homes were primarily intended to provide shelter for the veterans. The homes gradually evolved into complete planned communities. Not only were the homes planned as complete communities, they were also to be almost self-sufficient. It appears that these homes were the first non-religious planned communities in the country.
Additionally, Congress passed legislation to provide $100 annually for every veteran eligible for the National Home that was housed in a state soldiers' home. In 1895, the Indiana legislature authorized the establishment of a state soldiers’ home which was built in West Lafayette.
Even with the establishment of the Marion Branch, the National Home continued to face problems of overcrowding and the need for more specialized medical care. In 1898, Congress approved the establishment of an eighth branch of the National Home at Danville, Illinois. The Mountain Branch was established in 1903, near Johnson City, Tennessee. The last of the National Home branches was established at Hot Springs, South Dakota, in 1907, as the Battle Mountain Sanitarium. This facility was not a branch itself, but a facility open to members at any of the nine branches suffering from rheumatism or tuberculosis. Most of the efforts of the Board of Managers were directed to these three new branches between 1900 and 1910.
In 1916, the Board of Managers believed that membership had begun to decline. Considering the Civil War participants to have been between 13 and 43 years old in 1860, the youngest of the remaining Civil War veterans would have been 69 years old and the oldest 99, in 1916. As the death rate for the older members increased and fewer younger veterans entered the Home, membership would decline. However, on April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. By the time of the armistice on November 11, 1918, almost five million Americans had entered the armed forces. On October 6, 1917, an amendment to the War Risk Insurance Act, originally enacted in 1914 to insure American ships and cargo against risks of war, extended eligibility for National Home membership to all troops serving in the “German War” and, most importantly, made the provision that all veterans were entitled to medical, surgical and hospital care.
Prior to the 1917 amendment, the only veterans entitled to such medical care were the members of the National Home who had access to the Home hospitals. All other veterans were dependent on civilian medical services. The 1917 amendment meant that all veterans were eligible for the same medical care as the members of the National Home. Clearly, there were not sufficient hospital facilities at the ten Home branches to care for the potentially high number of World War I veterans.
After the Armistice, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance did not have the resources, particularly medical facilities, to meet the needs of World War veterans. In 1919, the responsibility for veterans’ services was distributed among several agencies: the United States Public Health Service took over the provision of medical and hospital services; the Federal Board for Vocational Rehabilitation assumed the task of organizing vocational rehabilitation programs; and the War Risk Insurance Bureau managed compensation and insurance payouts. The burden on government hospitals, administered by the Public Health Service, was so great that it began to contract with private hospitals to provide health care for veterans.
On March 4, 1921, in response to the need for more hospitals serving veterans, Congress appropriated funds to the Secretary of the Treasury to construct additional hospitals for veterans covered by the War Risk Insurance Act amendment. In addition, Congress required the Bureau of War Risk Insurance to make allotments to the National Home to fund alterations or improvement to existing Home facilities for the purpose of caring for War Risk Insurance beneficiaries.
Immediately after the war, the National Home made several changes in its organization to accommodate the large number of returning veterans by 1) transforming the facilities of two branches into hospitals and categorizing them for specialized care (Marion for neuropsychiatric cases and Mountain for tuberculosis), 2) modernizing existing facilities and establishing tuberculosis wards (Central and Pacific); and 3)building entirely new hospitals (Northwestern), using funding from the Treasury Department.
In August 1921, Congress acted to consolidate all veterans’ benefits into a single independent agency, the Veterans Bureau. On April 29, 1922, this agency assumed responsibility for fifty-seven veterans’ hospitals operated by the Public Health Service as well as nine under construction by the Treasury Department. By 1926, the Board began to see a new trend in veterans’ use of the National Home. For the most part, the World War I veterans were receiving medical treatment and returning to civilian life rather than entering the domiciliary program for the Home. The Board noted that hospital care costs were almost three times the cost of domiciliary care and required large capital investments in hospitals, medical equipment, and professional staff. By 1928, the Board concluded that it was not capable of managing the National Home as a national medical service. In June 1929, the president of the board of Managers was named to the Federal Commission for Consideration of Government Activities Dealing with Veterans’ Matters; the work of this commission resulted in the creation of the Veterans Administration.
On July 21, 1930, the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were consolidated into the Veterans Administration, with the National Home being designated the “Home Service.” In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt’s relief program put a temporary hold on funding for Veterans Administration construction projects. Two years later, in August 1935, plans were announced for a $20,000,000 building program for the Veterans Administration. Several of the former National Home branches received funding for new medical treatment buildings, domiciliaries, storage buildings, and garages for staff quarters.
On December 7, 1941, another war brought a new period of change to the former National Home when an even larger number of citizens were called upon for military service. To meet the demand for services after World War II, and later the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the former branches of the National Home were expanded and adapted once again to serve veterans.
On July 5, 1884, Congress approved the Board’s recommendation to change the eligibility requirements for admission, allowing veterans disabled by old age or disease to apply without having to prove any service-related disability. In effect, the Federal
During its life, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was also known "officially" as the National Military Home and colloquially as the Old Soldiers Home. The formal organizational name was not changed by statute, but the mailing address for most branches became National Military Home, the city and state. In the early days the designation of "old soldier" had no bearing on an individual veteran's age. The appellation was use for all former members of the Union forces from their teens to their seventies.
- Rothman, David J, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, Boston, MA 1971, pg. 131-13
- Cetina, Judith Gladys, A History of Veteran;s Homes in the United States, 1811-1930, Ph.D. Diss., Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 1977, pg. 30-39.
- Cetina, Judith Gladys, History of Veterans' Homes, pg. 39-53
- Paul R. Goode, The United States Soldiers' Home, Richmond, VA 1957, pg. 24-26, pg. 45-46
- Goode, Soldiers' Home, pg. 99
- For the work of the Sanitary Commission: William Q. Maxwell, Lincoln's Fifth Wheel: The Political History of the United States Sanitary Commission, London, 1956
- Robert Bremner, The Public Good: Philanthropy and Welfare in the Civil War Era
- Cetina, History of Veterans' Homes, pg. 61-72
- Maris A. Vinovskis, "Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War? Some Preliminary Demographic Speculations," Toward A Social History of the American Civil War, Cambridge, 1990, pg. 9
- Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Proceedings, May 16, 1866, p.2
- Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Proceedings, December 7, 1866, p.7
- Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Proceedings, March 12, 1868, p. 21
- Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Proceedings, October 28, 1870, pg. 75
- Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Annual Report for 1875, pgs 4–5
- Board of Managers, Annual Report for 1882, pg 3
- Board of Managers, Annual Report for 1883, pg 3
- Board of Managers, Annual Report for 1883, pg 25 22.
- Cetina, History of Veterans' Homes, pg. 183, 196–197
- Board of Managers, Annual Report for 1884, pg 5
- Board of Managers, Annual Report for 1884, pg 5
- Cetina, History of Veterans' Homes, pg. 186, citing the Board of Managers Annual Report for 1887, pg. 3
- Board of Managers Proceedings for 1888, pg 198
- Gustavus Weber and Laurence Schmeckebier, The Veterans Administration, Washington D.C., 1934, pg. 4
- Board of Managers Proceedings, December 6, 1926, pg. 443
- Cetina, History of Veterans' Homes, pg. 378-379
- Weber and Schmeckebler, Veterans Administration, pg. 16-17
- Board of Managers Proceedings, March 20, 1928, pg. 7
- Robert M. Taylor, Jr., Indiana: An Interpretation, New York, 1947, pg. 76-78