"I feel what I get here is mine. That the government owed me a debt, contracted 25 years ago, the consideration for which was the weary march, the deperate fight and the hopeless imprisonment."Penned by Civil War veteran N.A. Hunt in 1891, these words summarized the value countless American volunteer soldiers placed on an institution established by Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. Between 1865 and 1930, eleven National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS), or Homes, would be established across the country to provide for the American soldier, whose numbers had increased by 2500% by the end of the Civil War. Thousands faced unprecedented problems, and modern firearms, disease, and trauma took tremendous physical and psychological tolls. At these places veterans could find free medical and spiritual care, a place of residence, opportunities for vocational rehabilitation, education, entertainment, and if necessary, an honorable burial. The Homes’ carefully considered architectural and landscape designs reflected multiple goals. They were to physically represent the Federal government’s commitment to its veterans and serve as a source of pride to those veterans. The imposing design of the properties served to generate public respect for veterans, and for both the public and the members, the Homes established a sense of community and security.
The Homes also represented a policy of veterans’ benefits that directly influenced the development of a national system for veteran health care in the United States. That system is provided today through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Homes were a notable departure from the previous Federal focus on care for professional soldiers and officially set forth the concerns and commitment of the Federal government for the well-being of the civilian, or volunteer, soldier. From an initial admission policy directed towards Union Army volunteer veterans with service-related disabilities, membership at the Homes would eventually expand to all veterans of all wars who could not live independently for any reason, regardless of the nature of their disability. The focus on care also changed over time, shifting from an original goal of quickly re-integrating veterans into society, to geriatric care, to providing medical care for new influxes of young veterans with specific injuries and conditions.