VA History: Soldier’s Homes

One hundred and twenty-seven (127) years ago, on August 27, 1888, the cooperative relationship between federal and state soldiers’ homes was formalized in a Congressional act “to provide aid to state or territorial homes for the support of disabled soldiers and sailors of the United States.”

image001A handful of states established soldiers homes during the Civil War, well before the Federal system of hospitals-homes was authorized in 1865. The earliest state home was established near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1862. Before the Civil War ended, on March 3, 1865, Congress authorized the first Federal system hospital-home–known as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS)–specifically for veterans of the U.S. (Union) volunteer forces. The National Home was the ancestral origins of today’s VA health care system.

Congress gave the National Homes broad powers to provide “outdoor relief” to disabled veterans who were not willing or able to reside at a National Home. National Homes were located regionally, so state soldiers homes were often more convenient to get to.  Some state soldiers’ homes allowed veterans’ wives or widows to be admitted, which was more conducive for some veterans. As Civil War soldiers aged and their disabilities increased, the National Homes were filled to capacity, leaving state soldiers home to fill that void.

When the National Homes were first getting off the ground, managers provided medical care or other aid to Union veterans at state soldiers’ homes, the veterans’ own home, or wherever they were found in need, so long as it did not exceed the cost of maintaining them as residents of the Home. In 1870 the average cost of maintaining a veteran at the Central Branch in Dayton, Ohio, was $160.79 per year. Through the “outdoor relief” provision, the National Home reimbursed state homes for housing or taking care of Union veterans. This was especially useful during the first 10 years of the national asylum while a majority of its buildings were under construction. In December 1868 nearly 1,800 disabled veterans received care in state soldiers homes compared to 1,964 at the National Homes.


There was great cooperation between the National Homes and state homes from the very beginning.  This was due, in part, to their common origins extending from the U.S. Sanitary Commission’s work which established 40 “soldiers homes” or lodges for convalescent or discharged soldiers during the war.

The National Homes’ Central Branch took over the Ohio Soldiers Home at Columbus in March 1867 while they constructed their own permanent facility in Dayton (now Dayton VAMC) which opened later in the year. The Wisconsin Soldiers Home in Milwaukee offered National Home Managers $100,000, plus property, to take over their facility and establish a National Home in that community. The NHDVS’ Northwestern branch (now known as Clement J. Zablocki VAMC) opened in Milwaukee in late spring of 1867.

In 1868 when a fire destroyed main buildings at the first National Home, which opened in 1866 in Togus, Maine, veterans were transferred to state homes in Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, until new replacement buildings were constructed. The first National Home in Togus is now known as the VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus. Numerous state homes requested to become part of the National Home system, but only three became part of the National Homes’ legacy:

·         Milwaukee (as mentioned above)

·         the 1878 New York State Soldiers & Sailors Home in Bath, NY, was transferred to the National Home in 1929 and became the Bath Branch–the 11th and last official NHDVS branch

·         the 1893 Oregon State Soldiers Home in Roseburg, OR, was authorized as one of three new National Home branches in June 1930, a few short weeks before the NHDVS was merged with the Veterans Bureau and Pension Bureau to form the Veterans Administration. Roseburg opened in 1933 as a VA Home, instead of a National Home.

The August 27, 1888 law also gave the National Homes the right to inspect state soldiers’ homes and report their findings to Congress. In 1894 Congress ordered the Army’s Inspector General to conduct annual inspections of both the NHDVS and state soldiers’ homes to ensure that the nation’s disabled veterans were safely housed and taken care of. Reimbursement amounts to the state have increased over the years to keep in step with the rising cost of living

In 1890 there were 14 state soldiers homes. By 1916 the number of state soldiers homes had more than doubled to 32. Today, in 2015, there are roughly 150 with every state, plus Puerto Rico, having at least one state veterans home.

Historian, Veterans Health Administration; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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