A VA hospital is a hospital run by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a cabinet-level agency in the United States government. VA hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes offer care to veterans of the United States armed services, as part of a general benefits package provided to people who serve in the military. Altogether, the staff of the VHA make up the bulk of the VA, and they include everyone from top-flight neurologists to janitors.
Services at a VA hospital are open to anyone who has served in the armed forces, along with members of the Reserves who have been called up. As a general rule, a veteran must show that he or she served for at least 24 months in order to be eligible for services, although if a veteran is permanently disabled before 24 months of service, he or she will be eligible for VA care. The VA also divides veterans into a number of classes, prioritizing care for people who are injured in combat, and placing veterans who can afford their own health care at the lower end of the priority scale.
Veterans can access a number of services at a VA hospital after enrolling in the VA benefits system. Preventative care is an important part of the offerings at most hospitals, along with ongoing treatment for disabilities acquired while in the services. The VA hospital also offers the same services that a conventional hospital does, including diagnosis and treatment of a range of conditions from cancer to bronchitis. Veterans can access a VA hospital in any number of districts across the United States; a complete list of sites is available from the Veterans Administration.
Some VA hospitals have wings which specialize in particular issues, such as amputations and prosthetics or head injuries. Veterans may be encouraged to seek treatment for specific conditions at VA hospitals which specialize in those conditions to ensure that they receive a high level of care. VA hospitals may also conduct and publish research, using the data they gather to advance the field of battlefield medicine and to improve medical care in general for civilians and members of the military alike.
The history of caring for veterans of the armed forces in the United States dates to 1778, when the first hospital for veterans was established by the new American government, and this origin is rooted in traditional attitudes to military service which date back to Roman times. The military tends to take care of its own, and society is usually willing to foot the bill as an expression of gratitude for the service of members of the military, and as a reflection of the need for a healthy military.