On This Day: VA Hospital Opens

On April 6, 1953, the Veterans Administration Hospital opened here in Durham, NC. The Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center is a part of the federal Veterans Health Administration (VHA) which seeks to provide medical care and services to America’s military Veterans. The origins of the VHA date back to the Civil War when 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.”{1}  Today the VHA manages one of the largest health care systems in the world, partners with medical schools across the country to provide training for health professionals, and oversees medical research programs. VA Hospital

The Durham hospital has grown since it first opened in 1953 with 120 beds. On opening day, the hospital had 600 employees which included 24 full-time physicians, 65 residents and interns, and 154 nurses. Today the number of employees in the Durham VA Health Care System totals 3,400. The system includes the main facility here in Durham as well as several community-based outpatient clinics. It is also a top teaching facility with more than 1700 trainees from 30 different academic affiliations rotating through annually. According to the Durham VA Health Care System’s Annual Report {2}, the Durham system also has one of the top research programs in the VHA with $38 million in research expenditures and 480 research projects conducted by more than 150 investigators. 

Given the close physical proximity of Duke Hospital and the Durham VA Hospital, there is a rich history of partnership and collaboration. Dr. Francis Widmann, former professor in the Duke Department of Pathology, directed the blood bank and served as Assistant Chief of Laboratory Service at the Durham VA Hospital. She recounts in her 2007 oral history interview that “traditionally, at many universities, the VA hospital would be an affiliated hospital and was definitely considered to be the poor relation in terms of intellectual activity, but I don't think that was the case.  The association between Duke Hospital and the VA Hospital was much closer both intellectually and physically; I mean we were just right across the street, whereas in many universities, the VA Hospital would be all the way across town, and so that there would be much less in the way of day-to-day interaction.” 

Turkey Trot shirts

This interaction is not all serious business. Since 1973, internal medicine residents have participated in an annual Thanksgiving game of flag football featuring the Duke Hospital Marines versus the Durham VA Jets. The DUMC Archives holds a collection of t-shirts from these games, pictured to the left, which provide testament to the rich collaboration that exists between the Duke and VA communities.  



1 “Our History: A Brief History of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)”, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, https://www.durham.va.gov/about/history.asp 

2 Durham VA Health Care System Fact Sheet, https://www.durham.va.gov/Documents/DVAHCSFactSheetFY2018_FINAL.pdf