The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS) was made possible by congressional legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1865. The Central Branch was one of the original three branches that served the disabled Veterans of the Civil War. The Honorable Lewis B. Gunckel of Dayton, Ohio was Secretary of the Board of Managers. He was instrumental in the selection of Dayton as the site for the Central Branch. The immediate success of the Central Branch was very important because of setbacks at the Eastern Branch at Togus, Maine and the Northwestern Branch at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It demonstrated to the Board of Managers and the Nation that the Federal government is capable of providing comprehensive care and rehabilitation to a large number of Veterans. It also demonstrated that the home like environment envisioned by the Board of Managers could be successfully worked out. The Central Branch became known as the Dayton Soldiers Home.
The Home was the forerunner to many of the Federal social programs existing today, as it provided for all the needs of a defined group of people. From the outset, Veterans were given a zest for life through healthful exercise, reading, music, and charming surroundings, and healthcare programs prepared them to re-enter society. The founders took great pride in establishing rehabilitative workshops during the first year of operation. The Veterans were taught a trade, or how to carry on a business, in order to become independent of the Soldiers Home. Other branches were to establish workshops later, but no branch matched the variety and success of the Dayton Soldiers Home. National focus was placed on the hospital, which opened in 1870 and was widely regarded as the best hospital in the United States at that time. National focus was also placed on the Home Church since it was the first permanent church constructed by the U.S. Government. The Grotto and gardens received national recognition for beauty. The campus became a popular tourist destination with accommodations that included a hotel and restaurant and attractions that included animal exhibits
The central role continued from its early years as the "Mother Home" through 1930, at which time the Veterans Administration was formed. As healthcare technology advanced, the focus shifted away from providing a home like environment to become a modern healthcare facility. The Dayton VA Medical Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to reflect the desires of a grateful Nation to care for the men and women who have defended our country.