Central Texas Veterans Health Care System
History of the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
The Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center began its long history of serving Veterans when it opened on May 6, 1932. At the time of the opening there were 20 buildings built in the Italian Renaissance style with a bed capacity of 308 beds for the treatment of former service men who had been honorably discharged from any war or expedition and suffered from a nervous or mental disability.
The hospital quickly grew in 1937 with the construction of five additional buildings making the bed capacity 947. With the end of World War II five additional buildings were constructed on the “outer” circle bringing the bed capacity to 2,040 patients.
In 1932 the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center included a 508-acre reservation with a full time working farm. The farm had 262 acres under cultivation including a vegetable garden, fruit orchard, hay and grain crops. Farm animals including a herd of 126 pigs and a flock of 63 sheep were feed and slaughtered on the reservation producing up to 1,000 pound of pork or lamb per week for subsistence purposes. Pigeons, rabbits, turkeys, geese, pheasant and quail were also raised on the farm. A portion of the original farm was awarded to the Waco Independent School District and was designated as Veterans Field for athletic events. This original farm land was also developed into a municipal golf course.
To process the food, the hospital had a modern “ice plant” furnishing cold storage for kitchens and bulk supplies. The “ice plant” had a capacity of manufacturing 2,400 pounds of ice daily. In addition, the hospital operated a laundry and fire department. Clinical services on the reservation included an “industrial therapy program” to help rehabilitate selected patients to their highest level of functioning. The therapy included work assignments to the grounds, farm, slaughter house, laundry, sewing and upholstery shops giving patients an opportunity to adjust to the hospital community and prepare them for life supporting skills.
In 1984, Inner Circle Drive, a loop through the ward treatment buildings, had a name change to honor Doris Miller, a native of Waco and a hero of World War II. Miller, who worked in the kitchen, manned a ship’s gun to down four enemy aircraft during the raid on Pearl Harbor. A monument to Miller was erected in 1984.
The mission of the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has not changed since the early years, continuing to provide medical and psychiatric care for veterans for the past 75 years.
The Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has supported the needs of the veterans with psychiatric and medical rehabilitation and now offers clinical services that include treatment for psychiatric disorders, post traumatic stress disease and blind rehabilitation. The Medical Center became part of the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System in 1995 and has now been designated as the “VA Center of Excellence” for psychiatric care.