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From Clapboard to Cornerstone: The History of Oklahoma City VA Medical Center

Will Rodgers Veterans Hospital historical photo and Oklahoma City VA Medical Center on a blue background.

The VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City has been a cornerstone of the vibrant medical community east of downtown since 1953. Over the decades, this cherished hospital has been integral to building the medical landscape serving area Oklahomans today.

Though this hospital site opened in '53, its humble beginnings date back to 1946.

It was the end of World War II, and Oklahoma's Veteran population urgently needed expanded access to health care. The Veterans hospital in Muskogee, some 140 miles east of Oklahoma City, was bursting at the seams with a backlog of 1,500 Veterans.

VA selected Oklahoma City for a state-of-the-art hospital to better serve Sooner State Veterans.

By the mid-1940s, VA had secured funding for a new hospital but needed a place to build it. As a temporary fix, a makeshift hospital was established at Will Rogers Field, now known as Will Rogers World Airport, to provide health care services for Veterans returning from various theaters of war.

At the time, several Oklahoma City Public Health Department clinics operated from Will Rogers Field. Its Venereal Disease Center's surgery ward, equipped with X-ray capabilities, offered a suitable, yet humble, 220-bed hospital.

On July 15, 1946, Calistro Guerra, a U.S. Army and WWII Veteran became its first patient, and on August 11, the hospital was dedicated as Will Rogers Veterans Hospital.

In 1948, VA purchased land at NE 13th Street and Kelley Avenue in Oklahoma City but construction didn’t begin until 1950. Due to the United States’ involvement in the Korean War and a steel strike in 1952, construction took an additional three years to complete.

Without a permanent facility, VA continued seeing patients at the temporary clapboard and tarpaper Will Rogers Veterans Hospital for years longer than anticipated.

After the Korean War, VA opened its brand-new 500-bed hospital in Oklahoma City on August 7, 1953. On September 14, VA relocated 96 Veteran patients to its new hospital, with new patients admitted soon after.

Over the past 70 years, Oklahoma City VA Medical Center has expanded services to meet the needs of an ever-growing and diverse Veteran population, which now includes those who served during the Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War in Iraq and War in Afghanistan.