VA History Tidbits – 70th Anniversary of General Omar Bradley’s Appointment as VA Administrator

Seventy years ago, on August 15, 1945, the day after V-J day, General Omar Nelson Bradley was officially sworn in as Administrator of the Veterans Administration. He replaced General Frank T. Hines, a Spanish American War and World War I veteran who had served as leader of both the Veterans Administration and its predecessor, the Veterans Bureau, since 1923. Hines became ambassador for Panama.

President Harry Truman, a fellow Missourian, first approached General Bradley about the opportunity to head VA in May 1945—when Bradley was fresh from victory in the European theatre during World War II. Bradley accepted the offer in June and the following month, on July 5, 1945, Congress passed a private law that allowed him to remain on active-duty military status during his VA term. Many active-duty military personnel were assigned to VA during World War II and they, along with General Bradley wore special Military Personnel patches that reflected their status (see a portion of the patch on Bradley’s sleeve in photo below). Truman tasked Bradley with modernizing the VA.

General Bradley hit the ground running and his primary focus was to improve medical care. He brought along his chief surgeon from the European Theatre of Operations, Major General Paul R. Hawley, and together they initiated the first major transformation in the agency’s history. Among their accomplishments: established VA’s Department of Medicine and Surgery with emphasis on cooperative studies and medical research, setup a new means for hiring medical doctors, nurses, and professional staff outside of Civil Service restrictions, established affiliations with medical schools to make VA hospitals into teaching hospitals, formalized programs to provide canteen, chaplain, volunteer, and other important services to veterans. They hired the first women doctors to provide better treatment to women veterans, obtained unprecedented funding for medical research to develop better prosthetics, initiated an atomic medicine program, and much more.

They also shifted the location of VA hospitals from rural to urban settings to be nearer to medical schools. This resulted in a new look for VA hospitals—tall “skyscraper” hospitals—rather than sprawling campuses on large tracts of land as in the past. His ambitious plans included building 183 new hospitals in 39 states to accommodate World War II veterans. One of the first “Bradley” hospitals authorized by Congress was located on the former Fort Hamilton Military Reservation in Brooklyn, NY (now VA NY Harbor Health Care System).

General Bradley’s last day at VA was December 1, 1947. He left to replace his closest friend and former U.S. Military Academy classmate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as Chief of Staff for the Army. In 1950 he became America’s fifth and final 5-star general and left the military in semi-retired status around 1953. Shortly afterwards he was appointed as Chairman of Bulova Watch Company, where he remained for 20 years, before retiring in 1973. In 1955, President Eisenhower appointed him as Chairman for the President’s Commission on Veterans’ Pensions and he later made an appearance at the VA Regional Office in Los Angeles in 1976 as part of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration. He died on April 9, 1981, at the age of 88 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1993 a Congressional bill proposed naming the Kansas City VA hospital after him, but it was tabled and never came to fruition.

General Bradley, known affectionately as “the soldier’s general” by those who served with him in World War II, brought about unprecedented changes to VA–especially the medical side– in a very short time. Bradley’s tenure lasted roughly 27 months, but his legacy—including a majority of programs that he initiated—remains very much alive and present at VA today.
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Photo: General Omar Bradley, 1949, DOD.

Story:  VA Historian

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