A look at the many “firsts” in Veterans health history
Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embodies the spirit of the many Black men and women who broke history and continue to inspire us today.
National home for disabled volunteer soldiers, the first to provide domiciliary and medical care to Black veterans
VHA’s first hospitals opened under its predecessor, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The hospitals were racially integrated from the very beginning. The first African American Veterans, who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, were admitted to the Central Branch (now Dayton VAMC) in Ohio in March 1867.
Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962
It was the first government-civilian institution to admit the nation’s first African American Veterans of the Union Army.
First racially segregated veterans hospital
After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case decision, the practice of “separate, but equal” accommodations based on race took hold in American society. When the National Home opened its new Mountain Branch in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, the staff segregated Veterans by race.
A Veterans hospital established exclusively for African American Veterans opened in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1923, for those who served in World War I, caring for more than 300,000 Black Veterans
Pictured above is Dr. Henry Ward and staff at Tuskegee Hospital, 1924.
First African American hospital director
Dr. Joseph H. Ward, of Indianapolis, became the first director of the Tuskegee Veteran’s hospital in 1923. Dr. Ward served in that capacity at Tuskegee until 1936.
Racial segregation ends at VA
On July 29, 1954, VA announced that segregation of the races had officially ended at all hospitals.
First African American director to integrate VA hospitals
Dr. Howard Kenney was the first director to integrate the VA hospital system. On July 20, 1962, he became the first African American VA hospital director for the East Orange, NJ, facility.Long Description
Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984
First African American VA regional medical director
After integrating executive leadership at VA hospitals in 1962, Dr. Howard Kenney went on to become the first African American appointed as a VA Regional Medical Director in 1969.
First African American nursing director
Vernice Ferguson was the first African American nurse appointed as VA’s Director of Nursing in 1980, and she held that position for 12 years, retiring in 1992.
First African American woman hospital director
Viola Johnson became the first African American woman to lead a VAMC in 1984 when she assumed direction of the Battle Creek Michigan facility.
First VA hospital named for African American veteran
The first VA facility named after an African American was named after Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient PFC Ralph H. Johnson (Marines) in 1990.
First African American VA Secretary
Jesse Brown was the first African American VA Secretary. He served from 1993 to 1997.