Now that the federal government can again turn its attention toward the future, the Marion VA Medical Centeris preparing to look toward the past.On Nov. 1, the Marion campus will celebrate its 125th anniversary in conjunction with its annual Veterans Day parade, whose theme is “125 Years of Service.”
Today, the 105-acre campus, which focuses on neuropsychiatric and long-term care, is part of a regional network that includes the Fort Wayne VA hospital and four outpatient clinics. But its history dates back to the Civil War.
The medical center was establish in 1888 as the result of federal legislation that called for the creation of asylums and sanatoriums nationwide to care for Civil War veterans, said Helen Rhodes, associate director for operations.
The facility's original name was National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and it was also called an old soldiers home because veterans with disabilities lived there after serving in the military, Rhodes said. The facility's original layout was a barracks with its own crop fields, mess hall, chapel and post office.
“They were self-contained communities,” Rhodes said. “Back when these homes were established they thought it was good for the soldiers.”
As more homes, or branches, were built across the country post-World War I, different branches specialized in different veterans issues. The Marion branch's niche was neuropsychiatric care, which remains among the facility's specializations today. Veterans from throughout the state as well as Michigan and Ohio come to the Marion facility today because of its specializations.
“We kind of specialize in some things that the other VAs don't,” said Rhodes, a Grant County native who has worked at the Marion campus for more than 20 years.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was established in 1930, which is when the Marion old soldiers home became the Marion VA Medical Center.
Today, the Marion campus treats more than 7,000 veterans per year. Though the facility has a nursing home wing that provides long-term care, its focus has shifted toward outpatient care, with many veterans getting primary care at the hospital, Rhodes said. So whereas thousands of veterans used to live at the facility, the inpatient count is now 125 to 150 per day.
Grant County Veteran Affairs Service Officer Bob Kelley said almost every veteran he interacts with has received care from the Marion VA. Its nursing home wing is also sought after.
“A lot of veterans try to get in there because it's a very nice facility,” he said. “They provide outstanding health care.”
The hospital's substance abuse program also works in conjunction with the county's veterans court, established last year, Kelley said.
The Marion facility offers several programs for homeless veterans, helping them with everything from job skills to housing. Rhodes said those programs have grown in recent years in response to an increase in homeless veterans each year since the Recession started five years ago.
“We provide a lot things,” Rhodes said. “We tried to adapt to the times and provide what's needed.”