FrontNear the beginning of the 19th century two wars were fought in two widely separated Spanish possessions. Men from South Dakota were federal combatants in both conflicts. The 1898 Spanish-American War was fought in Cuba, only 90 miles from Florida, while action in the 1899 Philippine Insurrection took place thousands of miles away in the North Pacific Ocean in the Philippine Islands. Two decades later another generation of men from South Dakota served in Europe during World War I. To attend to the needs of these veterans, a federal office opened in 1921 in Sioux Falls to process benefit claims. This small contact benefits office soon became a regional office, and it then assumed oversight of benefits for all veterans living within the state.
South Dakota Congressman Royal C. Johnson successful spearheaded a movement to consolidate the administration of benefits for veterans at a time when veterans affairs were managed by a number of federal agencies and bureaus. In 1930 the Veterans Administration (VA) was established. Later, legislation was introduced in Congress for the construction of a hospital in eastern South Dakota to be named Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital.
After an influenza outbreak struck the Sioux Falls Army Air Force base during World War II, the War Department purchased the vacant buildings on the Columbus College campus to use for a hospital. While the VA Regional Office did establish offices in the former college buildings a hospital was not opened.
Following the end of World War II, a general medical and surgical hospital for veterans was constructed. It opened in July 1949. Twenty-five years later a major mission change occurred when an agreement was sighed with the University of South Dakota School of Medicine. The VA medical center then became a teaching hospital and first USD medical students arrived in 1964.
The name Veterans Administration was change to the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989 at the time the national director became a member of the President's cabinet. However, it still continued to be known by many as "the VA."
The Sioux Falls VA has had an enviable record of growth and high-level professionalism since its unpretentious beginning as a small contact benefits office. Today the medical center provides 17 specialty programs and state-of-the-art diagnostic and monitoring equipment. While the Dakotas Regional Office administers benefits other than health care for veterans and their families.