Thousands in the Miami Valley drive by it every day, but many don’t realize its importance as a living part of our nation’s history.

For over 150 years, since just after the end of the Civil War, the Dayton VA Medical Center has proudly provided medical care for our country’s military men and women. The center rests on nearly 400 acres of land off West Third Street in Dayton, and the Dayton National Cemetery, located on the grounds there, serves as the final resting place for more than 50,000 souls. There are soldiers from every major American conflict interred at the cemetery, with some dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

“We were one of the first VA centers in the nation,” says Ted Froats, himself an Iraq War veteran and public affairs officer for the Dayton VA Medical Center for the last five years. “President Abraham Lincoln, in his final speech before Congress, said the nation needed to heal the wounds of the Civil War and ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.’ And that is the VA’s mission now.”

With more than 2,000 employees, the Dayton VA Medical Center is one of the largest employers in the Dayton region, and more than 40,000 veterans receive treatment at the hospital there annually. In a typical year the medical center also provides for over 520,000 outpatient visits.

While its primary function is a medical center there is a strong sense of history at the location, as well. The Dayton VA Medical Center was one of three veterans administration centers in the United States when it was established by Lincoln. The other two were located in Augusta, Maine, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The third was originally to have been located in West Virginia’s White Sulphur Springs, but when railroad service to the area was judged inadequate the Dayton site was chosen. The first veterans arrived at the VA from Camp Chase, near Columbus, in September of 1867.

The Dayton VA was designated a National Historic Landmark District by Congress in 2012, a true honor—of the over 90,000 locations listed on the country’s National Register of Historic Places,only 2,500 are recognized as National Historic Landmarks.

“There aren’t too many of those in the nation,” says Froats. “We also received another honor recently. In 2017, we were selected by the VA secretary to become the home of the future National VA History and Heritage Center. So there will be a history center here in Dayton that will talk about veterans affairs history throughout the country. So that’s a great honor that we’re working to build.” The new museum is expected to create more than 400 long-term jobs, as well as increasing tourist visits to the Dayton area.

Whether providing medical services to our nation’s living veterans or honoring those who have departed, the Dayton VA Medical Center remains a vital link to our nation’s history and Dayton’s contributions to it.

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