Togus VA Hospital celebrates 150th anniversary
Everyone is welcome to join the Togus VA Hospital's 150th anniversary celebration Saturday, Sept. 17, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Togus campus. Many outdoor events are planned. The official 150th birthday of Togus is Nov. 10, 2016.
Oldest VA hospital
In 1865 near end of the Civil War, President Lincoln signed an act creating the National Asylum (later changed to Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The Eastern Branch at Togus, Maine, was the first of the new homes to open in November 1866. The name "Togus" comes from the Native American name Worromongtogus, which means "mineral water."
The Togus property originally was a summer resort known as Togus Springs. It was owned and operated by Horace Beals, a wealthy granite merchant from Rockland, who hoped to establish a second "Saratoga Springs" type resort.
Beals spent more than $250,000 on a hotel, stables, bowling alley, farmhouse, bathing house, race track and driveways. The resort opened in 1859 but failed during the Civil War and closed in 1863. Beals died shortly after this business failure and the government bought the land and buildings for $50,000.
The first veteran was admitted to Togus Nov. 10, 1866. The veteran population of the home remained under 400 until a building program began in 1868, which provided housing for 3,000 veterans.
The home was organized much like a military camp, with the men living in barracks and wearing modified Army uniforms. Although a 100-bed hospital was completed in 1870, medical care at the home was limited.
In 1890, a narrow gauge railroad from the Kennebec River in Randolph and an electric trolley line from Augusta were completed and Togus became a popular excursion spot for Sunday picnics. There were frequent band concerts, a zoo, a hotel and a theater that brought shows directly from Broadway.
Togus became a Veterans Administration facility following the Consolidation Act of July 1930, which joined all agencies providing benefits to veterans and their dependents. Most of the buildings that make up the present facility were constructed in the following decade.
Togus' role gradually shifted from a home to a full-service medical center, with the greatest change occurring after World War II as a result of the large number of returning veterans who required medical care.
In 1989, the VA was designated a cabinet-level agency and became the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today on the Togus VA campus are a medical center, a regional office and a U.S. National Cemetery. The Togus VA Medical Center has a staff of over 1,050 personnel representing various disciplines. It has 67 in-patient beds and 100 beds in the Nursing Home Care Units, which provide for long-term care as well as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Currently there are six community-based outpatient clinics located throughout Maine that provide local services to veterans. CBOCs can be found in Bangor, Calais, Caribou, Lincoln, Rumford and Saco, and there are also VA mental health clinics in Bangor and Portland. Togus VA Medical Center's current structure shows the VA's focus on increased outpatient healthcare while also raising overall quality indicators.
Togus National Cemetery — the only U.S. National Cemetery in Maine — is now inactive but well-kept and is the final resting place for 5,373 veterans from the War of 1812 through the Korean War. It was first opened in 1867 and was closed to new burials in 1961.
In 2000, the Beals House opened to provide temporary no-cost accommodations for families of in-patient Togus veterans. A former on-campus home for senior VA staff, it was donated to the nonprofit agency that now operates it. Beals House has served more than 1,800 families since it was renovated for family members and placed in operation.
Following renovation of a wing of the hospital, Togus VA Medical Center in June 2011 opened a new, $3.1 million, 12-room hospice unit for end-of-life care. According to an article in The Kennebec Journal, each of the rooms has its own bathroom, mini-refrigerator, microwave and television. There is also a room where families can meet and a common area that includes a double-sided fireplace with gas logs and a flat-screen television.
For more information on Togus VA, visit maine.va.gov/about/history.asp.
Homeless veterans fundraiser, concert
On Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Augusta Civic Center. This concert is a special celebration of the music of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn featuring Twitty's son Michael. Other performers include Debbie Myers, Shirley Myers, Deb Morin, Peter Allen, Travis Pinkham, the Overlocks, Allison Ames Band and more. Doors open at 11 a.m. with music starting at noon. Tickets can be purchased at the Augusta Civic Center Box Office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or call 626-2400.
Women veterans' event
On Saturday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (registration opens at 9 a.m.) at University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast. To RVSP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Joy at 930-5640. If you know women veterans, please forward this invitation to them.
UMaine Black Bears Military Appreciation Game
Free tickets are available for military personnel, veterans and families for the Maine vs. Bryant game Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. Call 581-Bear for tickets. Tickets must be reserved 24 hours before kick-off.
Joy Asuncion is retired from the U.S. Navy. She is an Honor Flight Maine board member and a Maine Troop Greeter. To contact Joy, email her at email@example.com or call 930-5640.