Our History - Louisville VA Medical Center
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Louisville VA Medical Center


Our History

  • On January 10, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the VA request to purchase approximately 59 acres outside the Louisville city limits.
  • At a total of $8,000,000, the new 494-bed Louisville Veterans Hospital opened on Ground Breaking for the Louisville VA Medical Center.April 2, 1952. The new facility owed its origins to the Nichols U.S. Army General Hospital located at Conn and Manslick roads in southern Jefferson County where it was operated by the United States Army Medical Department from November 1942 until March 31, 1946. On April 1, 1946, Colonel W. W. Southard, Commander of the Army Hospital, turned the facility over to the VA where it was designated "Nichols VA Hospital", and was operated by the VA until April 2, 1952. On that day, five ambulances, four limousines, and two buses moved 229 patients from Nichols to the new VA medical center on Zorn Avenue.
  • Prior to the construction of the new hospital, outpatient services in Dental, Audiology, and Prosthetics and Sensory Aides were located in downtown Louisville. During the late 1950's through the 1970's, these areas were merged with inpatient services at the new facility.
  • Radiology installed the hospital's first ultrasound in 1981, followed by the first CAT Scan in 1983.
  • The ambulatory care addition was dedicated in 1988.
  • On May 9, 1991, the hospital dedicated the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
  • On March 6, 1995, the Sports and Fitness Clinic was dedicated.
  • To further enhance medical imaging capabilities, Nuclear Medicine added an ADAC Vertex Gamma Camera in 1995.
  • Radiology installed an MRI unit in 1996.
  • In 1996, the medical center established Red, Green, and Purple Primary Care Clinics at the main campus.
  • The VA Dupont Behavioral Sciences Clinic celebrated its grand opening as the first Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) on March 15, 1996.
  • On February 3, 1997, the Louisville VAMC opened its second community-based clinic, VA Healthcare Center, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
  • On May 19, 1998, the hospital dedicated the 20,000 square foot Ambulatory Care Addition, housing the Prosthetics Treatment Center, Audiology & Speech Pathology Clinic, and the Red Primary Care Clinic (PCC).
  • The third community-based clinic, VA Healthcare Center, New Albany, Indiana, opened on November 19, 1998.
  • In 1999, an 8,000 square foot expansion of Ambulatory Surgery was completed, providing space to consolidate all of outpatient surgery.  The Ambulatory Surgery Suite is equipped with KTP laser technology, new x-ray equipment, and computerized digital imaging capabilities.
  • The Phase III Cardiac Rehabilitation Program opened in 2000.
  • VA Healthcare Center Shively, Kentucky opened in July 2000, becoming the fourth community-based clinic.
  • Louisville VA Medical Center hosted Louisville's first Stand Down in October 2000,introducing an aggressive campaign to help homeless veterans and homeless individuals obtain food, clothing, shelter, drug and alcohol counseling, medical treatment, and other supportive services.  One month later, November 2000, the medical center dedicated VET Place, a community-based program for homeless veterans.
  • Bar Code Medication Administration Bar Code Medication Administration (BCMA) was introduced in 2001. BCMA used with CPRS, is a point-of-care solution for validating the administration of medications.  A bar code is placed on the patient's wristband allowing both the pharmacy and nursing staff to verify medication orders.  PYXIS which works in conjunction with BCMA was also added in 2001.
  • In the Spring 2001,the VA Healthcare Center, TRICARE Family Practice opened at Grade Lane.
  • On April 16, 2001, the medical center showcased the new 16-bed state-of-the-art Intensive/Coronary Care Unit on 6 South.
  • On July 24, 2001, the medical center announced its participation in the largest-ever international prostate cancer prevention trial, Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT).
  • The VA Women's Healthcare Center, Shively, Kentucky, was dedicated on August 29, 2001.
  • 5 North debuted in April 2002. 5 North is a premiere 20-bed Acute Medicine Unit that also serves Hospice and Oncology. Hospice Suite at the Louisville VA Medical Center
  • DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) Scan, a noninvasive test to measure bone density, was installed in 2002.
  • PACS (digital Picture Archiving Communication System) was installed in 2002.
  • The Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) became fully operational in July 2002.
  • In 2002/2003, the Customer Service Board was established implementing such services/programs as Valet Parking and "Tell the Director".
  • On October 1, 2003, Radiology implemented VISTA/RAD, a filmless system for all x-ray, CT, and ultrasound. MRI and angiography were added in April 2004.
  • On October 7, 2003, the medical center opened a Spinal Cord Injury Clinic with dedicated space in the Red Primary Clinic area.
  • A mobile MRI unit was added at Fort Knox in 2003.
  • In the Spring 2003 the medical center introduced the Geriatrics and Extended Care Service (GEC). This program was further expanded in 2004 with a Home-Based Primary Care Program and Care Coordination/Home Telehealth was added in 2005.
  • Also in 2004, the medical center unveiled its new, spacious Eye Clinic, Dental Suite, and completely updated Prosthetics department.
  • In March 2004, the Louisville VA Medical Center was recognized as the "Most Improved Facility" in VISN 9 for FY '03.
  • In April 2006, the medical center unveiled its newly renovated and expanded Emergency Department (ED).  The ED features individual patient rooms for enhanced patient privacy, to include 2 safe holding rooms, as well as a new wireless computer system, medical gas system, security access system, and larger more comfortable waiting areas. 
  • Also in April 2006, the medical center opened the Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Program (SARRTP) which provides veterans with an intensive substance abuse treatment program in a residential setting located within the medical center. 
  • In June 2006, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs announced the Louisville VAMC would receive a new hospital.
  • In January 2007, the LVAMC was the first VA facility to be approved to perform Percutaneous Coronary Interventions in the cardiac catheterization lab without on-site cardiothoracic surgery.
  • In February 2007, a state-of-the-art medical procedure unit opened which consolidated all outpatient medical procedures in one area with pre and post recovery beds contiguous within the unit.
  • In 2008, the LVAMC instituted a Behavioral Health Lab (BHL), an innovative program with three main functions. Behavioral health clinicians are included within the Primary Care Clinics; BHL refers Veterans for more intensive mental health care if needed and BHL clinicians and technicians monitor Veterans whose mental health systems are subclinical.
  • In 2009, a state-of-the-art GE Spect CT Gamma Camera was installed in a beautiful suite that increases our patients’ comfort level. This new camera is able to capture non-diagnostic CT images that enhances Nuclear Medicine/Cardiology imaging.
  • In 2009, the medical center added Medical Foster Home and Contract Adult Care Services
  • Also in 2009, Home Based Primary Care Services were extended to Indiana, improving access to Veterans residing across the Ohio River.
  • In October 2009, the LVAMC expanded our inpatient Hospice Unit from 4 to 6 beds with the addition of a family room.
  • Also in October 2009, a modular building was added to expand our Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination capabilities.
  • In March 2010, two state-of-the-art MRIs were installed in Radiology Department. This new technology has the capability of cardiac imaging and can accommodate the claustrophobic patient.
  • In April 2010, the Louisville VA Medical Center was changed to the Robley Rex VA Medical Center, in honor of WW1-era Veteran and VA volunteer, Mr. Robley Rex.
  • Modernizing our Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) began in May 2010 and is scheduled for completion in mid 2010.
  • Other projects scheduled for completion in 2011 include the redesign of an impatient dialysis suite to accommodate 2 patients, renovation of our Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation space to improve functionality and an additional cardiac catheterization lab will be in place.

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.