United States Department of Veterans Affairs
National Chaplain Center

History of VA Chaplaincy

1865- The history of the Department of Veterans Affairs Chaplain Service actually began on March 3, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln signed legislation establishing the first National Homes for disabled volunteer soldiers.  Chaplains were paid a salary of "$1500 per year and forage for one horse."  

1883 - The Treasury Building was constructed on the site of the National Soldier's Home, Hampton, VA.  This site would later become the home of the V. A. Medical Center, Hampton, VA and the current location of the National Chaplain Center Headquarters.

1930 - On July 30, the Consolidation Act placed all National Soldier's Homes under the control of the Veterans Administration.  Part-time local clergy were the only positions available in hospitals.

1944 - On June 7, the General Commission on Chaplains and Armed Forces Personnel negotiated with the Veterans Administration to take responsibility for the service of Chaplains.  In December 1944 the Chief Medical Director of the V.A. spoke to the General Commission on past difficulties in maintaining a Chaplains program.  He suggested that a committee of the General Commission be formed to assist the V.A. in this matter.

1945 - On May 2, the Veterans Administration announced to the General Commission the appointment of Reverend Crawford W. Brown (Episcopal faith group) as the first Chief of Chaplaincy Service with an effective date of June 15, 1945.  At this time there were 98 Chaplain vacancies.  On August 1, 1945, General Frank T. Hines, Administrator of the Veterans Administration, established a national Chaplaincy Service "to assure beneficiaries the best possible spiritual guidance, religious services, etc."  The national Chaplaincy was organizationally assigned to the Office of Special Services, which also included the departments of Recreation, Canteen, Athletics and Patient Welfare.  On October 14, 1945, Director Brown told the Army and Navy Chaplains Association that a school for training Chaplains for Veterans Hospitals would soon be established.  Director Brown stated that the Veterans Administration would need approximately 125 Chaplains, or one for each hospital of 500 beds or more.  On November 28, 1945, V.A. Administrator General Omar Bradley authorized the Director of Chaplains to place full-time and part-time Chaplains in all V.A. hospitals.

1946 - From April 2nd to 4th, the first Chaplains Conference was held in Washington, DC.  The Veterans Administration projections called for approximately 195 full-time Chaplains with an anticipated need for over 600 full-time Chaplains by 1960.

1947 - On August 13, 1947, Chaplain Alexander J. McKelway (Presbyterian) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  His annual salary was $7,102.  In October of 1947, the General Commission on Chaplains and Armed Forces Personnel protested the placement of Chaplains under "Special Services."

1948 - In March, the U. S. Civil Service Commission issued the first classification standard for the Chaplain Service, "P-1610".

1949 - On March 31, the Veterans Administration reported 104,484 operating beds in 127 hospitals and homes of which 97,157 beds were occupied.  The Veterans Administration employed 242 full-time and 222 part-time Chaplains.  An organizational change was made placing all supervision of Chaplain activities under the VA Central Office in Washington, DC.  Four regional Chaplains were added to Central Office staff for field supervision. 

1950 - On April 2, Edward A. McDonough (Roman Catholic) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.

1951 - On September 4th, the Veterans Administration issued new Qualification Standards for Chaplains.

1953 - In April the Semi-Annual Report to the General Commission on Chaplains indicated that the Veterans Administration had 262 full-time and 280 part-time Chaplains serving in 163 hospitals.  On September 7th, the V.A. changed the name of Chaplaincy Service to Chaplain Service and organizationally placed it as a professional service under the Department of Medicine and Surgery.

1955 - On February 25, a new Chaplain Service Manual was issued.  It was supplemented by a Program Guide issued on November 9.  Each full-time field Chaplain was directed to rotate through a "Chairmanship" with responsibility for handling administrative and liaison matters affecting Chaplains at the station.  The Program Guide encouraged the use of audiovisual aids as an adjunct to ministry.  On August 1, Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans Affairs, highlighted the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the VA Chaplaincy with a radio address to all VA Medical Centers. On August 25, the VA revised the Qualification Standard for Chaplains to specify that Chaplains must be at least 24 years of age.

1962 - On August 6th, Congress passed an amendment to Title 38 that provided the Administrator of the Veterans Administration to designate a member of the Chaplain Service as Director, Chaplain Service, for a period of two years.  Previously there was no legal restriction on the length of time an individual could remain Director.  On August 9, 1962, Morris A. Sandhaus became the first Jewish Director of Chaplains.

1963 - In February, the U. S. Office of Personnel Management issued job classification standards for the Chaplain Service with a starting salary of $8,045.

1964 - In August, the Veterans Administration Chaplain School was established at the VA hospital, Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, under the direction of Chaplain Roy F. Reynolds.  The first Chaplain trainees arrived in November.  On September 30, a new VA Qualification Standard was issued for Chaplains deleting the minimum age requirement of 24.

1966 - On August 3, the Manual M-3, Part II, Change 11, specified that the educational program for new Chaplains was to be performed at the Chaplain Training School at the VA Hospital, Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, MO.  Chaplain Trainees were assigned to Jefferson Barracks for a period of training not to exceed 13 weeks. Upon completion of training, new Chaplains then received a permanent assignment to a VA field station.  On August 9, Roger O.Bratten (Presbyterian Church USA) was appointed Director, Chaplain Service.

1968 - In the Fall of 1968, University-affiliated clinical education programs for clergy began at VA facilities in Houston, TX,  Bedford, MA  and Martinez, VA providing nine stipends in the amount of $4500 each.

1970 - On August 9, Raymar E. Bobber, O.F.M. (Roman Catholic)  was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  On December 1, the 25th Anniversary of the VA Chaplaincy was celebrated at a banquet at Bolling Air Force Base, MD.  The VA Administrator, Donald A. Johnson, gave the keynote address.  On December 10th, this address was entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Strom Thurmond (S.C.) as a tribute to VA Chaplains.

1972 - On February 24th, new Chaplain training facilities at Jefferson Barracks were dedicated.

1974 - On August 9, James Rogers (United Methodist) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  The VA Central Office agreed to establish Chief of Chaplain Service positions at field facilities.  These positions were phased in to reduce the impact on personnel ceilings.  There were 31 positions identified to be filled in the first round.  In December, the first three Chiefs of Chaplain Service positions were selected:  James Jones (Protestant) and also the first African-American to be a Service Chief at VAMC New York, NY; Barry Kramer (Roman Catholic) at VAMC Augusta, GA;  and Eugene Cohen (Jewish) at VAMC Brooklyn, NY.

1975 - The Jefferson Barracks Chaplain School was closed due to a lack of funds.  On June 24th, Professional Services letter IL,  11-75-23 specified that Chaplain Service is an essential part of the delivery of mental health services at VA facilities.  This may have been the first "charter" for Chaplains to function in outpatient clinics.

1976 - In March, the Chaplain Service was reorganized by VA Central Office.  Regional Chaplain positions were abolished and replaced with "District Representatives."  On May 19th, the 30th Anniversary of the Chaplaincy was celebrated at Bolling Air Force Base, MD.  The keynote address was given by Terence Cardinal Cooke.  In December, there were 34 healthcare facilities, each with a Chief of Chaplain Service.

1977 - On July 26th, the Conference of Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agents for the Veterans Administration was formed.  In October, the VA proposed eliminating the nationally administered Chaplain Service and combining field chaplaincies with Recreation and Voluntary Services.  The proposal was withdrawn after is was rejected by by the Executive Committee of the Endorser's Conference.

1978 - On August 1, Corbin Cherry (Methodist) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  Chaplain Cherry was the first combat wounded Chaplain to hold the post.  In December a draft Pastoral Assessment Checklist was developed.

1982 - On January 1st, the General Commission on Chaplains and the Conference of Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agents for the Veterans Administration merge as the Endorsers Conference for Veterans Affairs Chaplaincy (ECVAC).  On January 2, James E. Martin (Roman Catholic) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.

1983 - In November 1983, Meredith Hunt, the first full-time female VA Chaplain,  was appointed at VA Medical Center, Allen Park, Michigan.

1984 - On January 1st, Simeon Kobrinetz (Jewish) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  During the period May 15-17 a Chaplain Task Force convened at the Long Beach, CA Regional Medical Education Center to begin a review of educational opportunities for VA Chaplains.  Reestablishment of the Chaplain School was considered.

1985 - On April 1, a draft report titled "Suggested Academic Guide for the New Chaplains School" stated that the VA had 800 chaplains or 400 full-time equivalents.  Based upon staffing levels recommended by Chaplain Service, VA had a deficit of 321 Chaplains.

1986 - On January 28th, the Seventh U. S. Court of Appeals affirmed in Baz vs. Walters that VA had not established a religion by employing Chaplains and having rules and regulations regarding their conduct.  The court defined a Chaplain as a "secular employee."  On July 1, the National Chaplain Training Facility opened at VAMC Hampton, VA under the direction of Chaplain C. Ronald Phelps.  On December 2nd,  the 40th Anniversary of the VA Chaplaincy was celebrated at a banquet in Washington, DC.  Thomas K. Turnage, Administrator of Veterans Affairs, was the keynote speaker.

1987 - On May 20th, the National Chaplain Training Facility was dedicated.  Thomas E. Harvey, Deputy Administrator of Veterans Affairs, was the featured speaker.

1988 - Herbert Cleveland (Evangelical Lutheran) was appointed Director of Chaplain Service.  On September 26th, Director Cleveland authorized the first VA Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Supervisor's Task Force.  This was the first time VA Central Office and Chaplain Service gave their blessing to VA CPE programs.  In October, Reverend Hiroshi Abiko was appointed to VAMC Palo Alto, CA as the first Buddhist Chaplain in VA. 

1990 - On June 7th, VA Administrator Edward J. Derwinski proclaimed the period October 22--28 as Pastoral Care Week and called upon all VA's to observe the 45th Anniversary of the VA Chaplaincy.

1992 - In January, the VA Central Office Chaplain Service is out placed to VAMC Hampton, VA.  There were also four Regional Chaplain positions created.  In June, Roger Brady (Roman Catholic) was appointed as Director, Chaplain Service.

1993 - On April 1st, the Federal Court of Appeals decides in Murphy vs. Derwinski that VA cannot require ordination as a qualification of chaplains.

1994 - On August 5th, VHA Directive 10-94-068 delegated authority to VA Medical Centers to classify and staff chaplain positions.  On September 2nd, Matthew A. Zimmerman (National Baptist) was appointed as Director of Chaplain Service.  Chaplain Zimmerman was the first African-American to serve in this position.  On December 6, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown addressed the Chief Chaplains Training Conference in Hampton.  He stated in his address that the VA Chaplaincy will not be contracted out.

1995 - The first Chaplain Service national database went on-line and provided linkage for all VA Chaplains.  On September 30th, the VA employed 416 full-time, 212 part-time and 160 intermittent chaplains.  Of the total 233 were Roman Catholic, 66 were Jewish and 24 were Eastern Orthodox.  On November 7th, a new National Chaplain Center facility was dedicated at the VAMC in Hampton, VA.

1998 - On March 2nd, the VA issued new qualification requirements for VA Chaplains.  A minimum of  two units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) or equivalent was required.  

1999  - On February 28th, Jeni Cook, D. Min. (Southern Baptist) was appointed Director, Chaplain  Service.  She is the first woman to hold this position.  On October 1st, the VA Academic Affairs Office provided the first stipends for residents in Clinical Pastoral Education Programs.  On October 8th Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo West visited the National Chaplain Center.

2000 - On September 13th, the VA issued policy for “registration” of religious faith groups.  Prior to this policy change, the  VA accepted ecclesiastical endorsements only from religious faith groups recognized by the Armed Forces Chaplain Board.  The first group to be independently registered with VA was the Alliance of Baptists.  On September 18th, the first VA Chaplaincy "Best Practices" Awards were presented at the annual Chaplain Convocation in Arlington  ,Virginia .  

2001 -  On January 19th, the first Spiritual Care Grand Rounds was held by conference call.  The presenter was Chaplain Richard Sipe.  On February 13th, General Lieutenant Zoloturiov Oleg Valentinovich, a Professor in the Military   Academy  of the General Headquarters of Russia  visited the National Chaplain Center.  He requested information on rehabilitation programs for veterans.  He was briefed by National Chaplain  Center  staff and toured the Hampton VA Medical Center.  On March 2nd, the Detroit , Michigan  VA Medical Center becomes the first VA facility to be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Pastoral Services (JCAPS).

2002 - On February 19th, the first joint certification training in disaster preparedness was conducted at VAMC Bay Pines, FL.  Working with the American Red Cross and the Emergency Management Strategic Healthcare Group, the National Chaplain Center began a national training program that will visit seven VISN headquarters over the calendar year. A total of 93 chaplains were trained and certified in Disaster Preparedness by the end of the year. 

2003 - Based on a continuing need for trained spiritual assets in a disaster or terrorist attack, disaster preparedness training was continued for calendar year 2003 with a total of nine sites scheduled to receive certification training.  On February 28, 2003 Chaplain Jeni Cook, D. Min. completed her four-year tour of duty as Director, Chaplain Service.  She then assumed her new role at the National Chaplain Center as Program Manager, Spiritual Health Initiatives.  On March 7, 2003, Chaplain Hugh Maddry, Deputy Director, National Chaplain Center was officially appointed as Acting Director, National Chaplain Center.  A new Chaplain Service Spirituality video was completed by the National Chaplain Center and distributed to all Medical Centers nationwide.

2004 - As the search continues for a new Director of the National Chaplain Center Chaplain Hugh Maddry becomes the longest serving Deputy Director and Acting Director.  He served as Acting Director, National Chaplain Center and Acting Chief Consultant of the Allied Clinical Services Strategic Healthcare Group from March 7, 2003 until June 1, 2004.  On June 2, 2004 Chaplain Maddry was appointed by Anthony Principi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to the position of Director, National Chaplain Center.  Chaplain Maddry was also the first Director, National Chaplain Center, to be formally installed at a ceremony in the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs conducted on August 20, 2004 in Washington, DC. 

2005 - In April 2005 the first one-week V-Tel Basic Chaplain Orientation Pilot Course was conducted at Palo Alto, CA.  A second V-Tel Basic Chaplain Orientation Course was conducted in August 2005 at Canandaigua, NY.  These two courses successfully demonstrated that distance education courses are effective in reaching chaplains unable to attend classes at the National Chaplain Center in Hampton, VA.  In October 2005 the first Roman Catholic Deacons' Course was conducted at the National Chaplain Center.  Also in October 2005 plans were approved for the new one million dollar Chaplain Education Center to be built on the second floor of Building 114 on the Hampton Medical Center campus.  Construction of the new school to begin in December 2005.

2006 - In August 2006 Chaplain Hugh Maddry, Director, National Chaplain Center, reappointed to second two-year term of office.  Also in August 2006 a new web site for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was established and released.

2007 - The new National Chaplain Training Center officially opens on January 8, 2007 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Deputy Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield.  Following the illness of National Chaplain Service Director Hugh Maddry, Chaplain A. Keith Ethridge was appointed Acting Director on February 7, 2007.

2008 - On July 21, 2008 Chaplain Hugh A. Maddry, former Director, National Chaplain Center, was awarded the Meritorious Service Award honoring his 36 years of service as a Chaplain in the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Chaplain Maddry received this award from Secretary of Veterans Affairs, James B. Peake, at a ceremony at VA Headquarters in Washington, DC.  Chaplain Maddry was the first CPE Supervisor to serve as Director, National Chaplain Center.  On August 31, 2008 Chaplain Keith Ethridge was appointed as the Director National Chaplain Center.

2009 - Chaplain Michael Pollitt was appointed Deputy Director, National Chaplain Center, effective March 15, 2009.  Mario Dagulo Started as Program Support Assistant in June at the National Chaplain Center.

2010 - January 3rd, 2010 Michael Lovejoy started at the National Chaplain Training Center as a program Support Assistant.  Associate Director Paul Holt retired August 28th.  Chaplain James Taylor started as Associate Director and his specialties are CPE and DOD liason December 5th.

2011 - January 31 Chaplain John Milewski became an Associate Director and represents Catholic interests.  December 7th Mario Dagulo was hired as a Staffing Assistant. 

2012 - Chaplain Keith Ethridge's term as Director ended August 30 though he remained Acting Director until December 16 , at which time Chaplain Michael Pollitt was appointed Director of the National Chaplain Center.