Change in VA

Seventy (70) years ago this month, VA was in the process of a major transition, just as it is today. In June 1945, VA was wrapping up its first year of administering the G.I. Bill when President Harry Truman made an unexpected announcement: he was appointing General Omar F. Bradley as VA’s new leader. Truman had been president for less than 60 days and World War II was still underway when the announcement was made roughly one month after V-E Day. It was time of dramatic change and uncertainty not only for VA, but for the country as well. -1 VA Administrator, General Frank T. Hines, 1923-1945                                                                                                               -2

VA Administrator, General Omar Bradley, 1945-1947 (right)

General Frank T. Hines, VA’s Administrator at that time, was a Spanish American War and World War I veteran who had led veterans benefits administration for an entire generation of veterans beginning at the Veterans Bureau in 1923. He provided leadership through some of the agency’s toughest times—steered it back to credibility after the Charles Forbes scandal, through the Great Depression, Bonus Army marches, the largest government hospital construction program in history at the time, and the second consolidation of federal veterans’ programs which brought major programs under the Veterans Administration. New hospitals for World War I veterans were still being constructed when World War II began and the new G.I. Bill was authorized shortly afterwards. In 1944, journalist and mental health advocate Albert Deutsch published a series of articles in PM magazine about the mistreatment of patients in America’s psychiatric hospitals—including VA hospitals. Although General Hines was not criticized, President Truman stated that, “he, himself, as a veteran of World War I would not have wished to see the Veterans Administration operated by a veteran of the Spanish American War,” so a changing of the guard became imminent. A special act of Congress allowed General Bradley to remain officially on military active duty while simultaneously serving as VA Administrator. He was sworn in on August 8, 1945, two days day after the U.S. dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and a day before the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Bradley brought with him General Paul Hawley, Surgeon General for the Eastern Theatre of operations, as VA’s Chief Medical Director. On June 30, 1945, VA had 97 hospitals open, organized under 52 regional offices and 9 area offices. One year later on June 30, 1946, after General Bradley’s reorganization, VA had 79 hospitals, 19 medical centers, 9 home-hospitals, 34 regional offices, and 9 area offices. While the change in leadership was surprising, at the time, it resulted in one of the most significant transformations in VA’s history. Highlights of Bradley’s transformation will be covered in future history tidbits. Historian, Veterans Health Administration

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