Our History - New Mexico VA Health Care System
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New Mexico VA Health Care System

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Our History

A History of the New Mexico VA Health Care System

  The New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System (NMVAHCS) serves Veterans in New Mexico, Southern Colorado, and West Texas.  The NMVAHCS is are part of the VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network, VISN 22.  That network is based in Long Beach, CA, and includes Prescott, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Greater Los Angeles, Loma Linda, Long Beach and San Diego.
  The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque is a Joint Commission accredited, VHA complexity level 1b, tertiary care referral center with a 24-hour Emergency Room located in the heart of the Land of Enchantment.  Known for decades as the New Mexico VA Medical Center, the facility was renamed the “Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center” in 2008 for Korean War Veteran Raymond Gerald “Jerry” Murphy, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his combat service.  Mr. Murphy worked for the Veterans Benefits Administration (Regional Office) in Albuquerque after the war, and later served as a volunteer at the medical center. 
 The following is an excerpt from from a history of the medical center, written in 1962:

“The Veterans Administration Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, opened its doors on August 22, 1932. Formal dedication of the hospi¬tal took place on Sunday afternoon, 3:00 P.M., August 14, 1932, with a personal representative of the Veterans Administration, heads of various Veterans organizations and prominent citizens from all parts of New Mexico participating.
Veteran Jose B. Valdez of Parkview, New Mexico, holds Register No. 1, since he was the first patient admitted to the Veterans Admin¬istration Hospital following its dedication on August 14, 1932. Mr. Valdez was admitted on August 22, 1932, and his last admission to the hospital was March 26, 1961. Mr. Valdez is a World War I veteran who saw action in France with the 166th Heavy Artillery in 1917-1918.
The hospital originally occupied a site of 516 acres, located on the mesa along the southeastern city boundary of Albuquerque, of which 74.6 acres were fenced in and 441 acres leased to the War Department. This land was donated by the War Memorial Mothers' Association. 
The architecture of the institution was planned to harmonize with the New Mexico scene.  It is a modified Pueblo type and resembles closely the native American design of the Indian Village of Taos.  The Pueblo type was maintained throughout and strikingly emphasized by the tile-paved patios and deep porches and by the huge vigas, which were used with striking effect in the exterior construction.
The buildings were grouped in an irregular circle providing a partial enclosure.  This arrangement was planned for greatest utility, as well as beauty.  Tile-covered walks, some of them with lower and upper decks, connected the administration building and general hospi¬tal with the dining halls and the building for the tuberculosis patients.
The surgical suite in the hospital and its equipment was compar¬able with the best in any general hospital in the largest city of the country, with two operating suites, sterilizing room, preparation room, anesthetizing room, nurses’ stations, doctors’ offices, and a complete surgical ward.
A complete Dental Service was installed, consisting of a Chief of the Dental Service, one dentist, one dental mechanic and one den¬tal assistant.  It was equipped with a thoroughly complete dental unit, x-ray and anesthesia machines.
The hospital was equipped with every modern convenience for the proper storage, handling and preparation of food, cold storage rooms for meat and vegetables, and a cooling room for supplies, such as bacon, butter, lard, etc. A modern ice cream plant, bakery, staple food storage rooms, dish sterilizing room, separate dietary unit for each class of patients were installed.  There were four dining rooms for the general cases, the tuberculosis patients, the staff, and for the attendants.  In addition to this, a fully equipped and complete diet kitchen in each ward for tray service and special diets, with ar electric tray cart for the transporting of hot foods from the diet kitchen to the bedside, was provided.  The hospital kitchens were spacious and included a butcher shop and vegetable preparation room.
Small open porches were provided for those in need of rest in open air. Each bed was provided with earphones and programs were tuned in at the master control board in the Recreation Building. The reading room and recreation hall were popular spots.  Bingo parties, movies and similar entertainment were held in the recreation hall at frequent intervals. Books from the central library were brought to the bed patients by a trained librarian.
A complete hydrotherapy unit was installed with needle showers, continuous flow baths, electric cabinets and electrocardiograph mach¬ines for heart diagnosis. Rehabilitation work went on for both bed¬fast and ambulant patients.
A complete, modern genito-urinary table, with X-ray attachments for the taking of pyelograms and other pictures peculiar to the G.U. service, was provided.
The X-ray Department was complete in every detail, was located on the main floor of the administration building, and was easily accessible to outpatients and hospital patients alike. The hospital’s heating plant, originally constructed to provide for future expansion, is gas-fired and extremely efficient. A fleet of trucks is required to carry on the hospital’s work.  A fire truck is maintained, ready for instant use.
In 1943, the Veterans Administration made a study of the facili¬ties of the Albuquerque Veterans Administration Hospital for possible expansion. Construction of a 267-bed addition, called Building 20, was started on July 20, 1949. The building is of concrete con¬struction and it harmonizes architectually  with the other  hospital buildings.  Total cost was around $3,250,000.   The building contains a large kitchen, dining room, chapel, recreation hall, library, labora¬tory, radiology unit, surgical suite, occupational therapy shops, and a  mental hygiene clinic. The new hospital building was dedicated on June 10, 1951, by General Gray, Administrator of the Veterans Admini¬stration.”

The medical center constructed its own water well and storage tank in 1957.  Building 20 gave way to construction of Building 41 in November 1986.  Considered the main medical center, Bldg. 41 has also had many renovations and additions over the past quarter century. It was originally constructed with six regular floors, but the building is actually twice the height of traditional six-story buildings, due to interstitial floors for mechanical space between each floor. 
Another major addition to the campus came in October 1990 with the construction of Building 45, the Zia Spinal Cord Injury Center.  In addition to inpatient beds, the SCI Unit includes an indoor therapy pool, a wheelchair repair department, a physical therapy gym, and an outdoor recreation courtyard.
In the early 1990s, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - one of the three administrations of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) - began developing a strategy to expand its capacity to provide outpatient primary care, especially for Veterans who had to travel long distances to receive care at VA facilities. To facilitate access to primary care closer to where Veterans reside, VHA began implementing a system for approving and establishing Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs).  The CBOCs are medical centers that provide a variety of primary care services to eligible Veterans. This include, primary care, preventive care, immunizations and vaccinations, prescription of medications, mental health, social work, counseling & group therapy, laboratory testing & X-ray services, telehealth, women's care, referral to specialists and/or the local VA hospital as appropriate, etc. It should be noted that the type of medical services available at a CBOC can vary from clinic to clinic. The following are the Community Based Outpatient Clinics under the New Mexico VA Health Care System:  Alamogordo, Artesia, Durango (Colorado), Española, Farmington, Gallup, Las Vegas, Northwest Metro - Rio Rancho, Raton, Santa Fe, Silver City, Taos, and Truth or Consequences.
Along with construction changes over the years has come a vast growth in the medical center’s labor force.  In the 1940s, the hospital employed the services of about 300 employees.  By 1962, that number had grown to 724.  More than 50 years later, the NMVAHCS now has more than 2,100 employees. About one third of its employees are Veterans.

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.