Printer Friendly

The Armed Forces Retirement Home: the history--and future--of caring for our veterans.

Each year our country remembers those who have served in the armed forces. Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, and anniversaries of significant events like D-Day and the attack on Pearl Harbor remind us of their service and sacrifice. Veterans are recognized and honored for their commitment, valor, and patriotism. Today, veterans face the same housing decisions and need for care as the rest of the country's aging civilian population. Many find quarters and camaraderie at the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH), and have since the 19th century.


Home to more than 1,200 eligible retirees and veterans, AFRH allows residents to maintain an independent lifestyle in an environment designed for safety, comfort, and personal enrichment. The organization's vision and mission reflect this (see sidebar, p. 36). AFRH has a storied history of providing care and services on two campuses: Gulfport, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., although today only one campus is open--the Gulfport facility sustained severe damage from Hurricane Katrina and remains closed.


Gulfport campus. The concept of a retirement home for naval personnel is almost as old as our country. The Naval Home was established Feb. 26, 1811, by Paul Hamilton of South Carolina, Secretary of the Navy under President James Madison. The charter was "to provide a permanent asylum for decrepit and disabled naval officers, seamen, and Marines." The Plantation, a 23-acre site in Philadelphia originally owned by the William Penn family, was chosen as the location of the Naval Home and purchased for $16,352. The cornerstone of the main structure, Biddle Hall, was laid in 1827. Officially opening in 1833, the facility was known as the Naval Asylum until the name was changed to the Naval Home in 1880. Naval personnel who were "so injured or infirmed as to be unable to contribute materially to their own support" were allowed to live at the home and asked to labor as much as they were able toward its upkeep. In the late 1860s, however, it was determined that the Philadelphia facility could not be economically modernized and expanded. A new facility would occupy a 39-acre site fronting the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The Naval Home was initially funded by contributions from the active force. As early as 1799, contributions of 20 cents per month were levied on every active-duty member for the relief of fellow seamen. This contribution was augmented by all fines imposed on Navy personnel for various infractions and was the principle source of monies for the Naval Hospital Fund/Pension Fund. The Pension Fund also received all money accruing from the sale of prizes of war. For nearly 100 years, the Naval Home was funded by these monies. In 1934, however, the Pension Fund was abolished by Congress and the proceeds were deposited into the U.S. Treasury and, from 1935 until 1991, the Naval Home was funded by Navy appropriations. Today, it is funded by monthly withholdings from active-duty personnel, fines and forfeitures, interest from the trust fund, and resident fees.

The damage sustained from Hurricane Katrina forced the Gulfport facility to close on August 29, 2005. The administration relocated more than 400 veterans to the Washington campus within 72 hours, and most of the Gulfport residents still reside on the Washington campus. Meanwhile, the General Services Administration, in consultation with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the management of AFRH, is responsible for the planning, design, construction, and contract administration related to the construction of a new facility in Gulfport.


Washington campus. Beautiful, century-old buildings stand as testament to the rich history of one of America's oldest veterans' retirement homes. The Soldiers' Home was established in 1851 as an "asylum for old and disabled veterans" with the help of General Winfield Scott, who commanded American troops during the Mexican War. He returned to the United States as a hero--and with the $150,000 that was paid to him by Mexico City in lieu of ransacking, he paid off his troops, bought new supplies, and offered the remaining money to Congress to establish the Soldiers' Home. Four of the original buildings still stand and are listed as National Historic Landmarks. Two of the buildings, Quarters 1 and the Lincoln Retreat, served as the summer White House for Presidents Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Buchanan and, most notably, Abraham Lincoln.


Lincoln occupied the Soldiers' Home, in what is now called Lincoln Cottage, during the most turbulent time in our nation's history, the Civil War. Not only was it a break from the hot, humid city, but also from the intense political pressures of being president during that time. In fact, Lincoln spent one-fourth of his presidency at the Soldiers' Home, and it is believed that Lincoln wrote the last draft of the Emancipation Proclamation there. Mary Todd Lincoln fondly recalled the campus; in 1865, she wrote, "How dearly I loved the Soldiers' Home." The Lincoln Cottage was constructed in 1842-43 as the home of George W. Riggs, who went on to establish the famous Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C. In 1851, the government purchased the Riggs home and farmland surrounding it to form the core of what is the Washington campus today.

The early Gothic Revival cottage served as the first quarters for the "inmates" of the "asylum." They lived there for approximately five years, until they moved into the Scott dormitory (now called the Sherman Building) to the east. The Lincoln Cottage also was the home's first hospital and guesthouse, and where women were housed when they were first admitted in 1954.

In 1973, the Soldier's Home was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1974 waslisted on the National Register of Historic Places. A presidential proclamation in 2000 by Bill Clinton established the President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument. (For more information on the National Monument, visit The Washington campus also includes the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery, one of two national cemeteries administered by the United States Department of the Army (the other being Arlington National Cemetery).


Since the home's beginning, operational funding came from the soldiers (and later, airmen) themselves. A permanent trust fund was established nearly 150 years ago, and was fed by monthly active-duty payroll deductions of 25 cents, when the average pay of a soldier was $7 a month. Fines and forfeitures from the armed forces and the monthly withholding have provided the principal support for the home throughout its history.

AFRH--Gulfport and Washington

In 1991, Congress incorporated the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home in Washington into an independent establishment of the federal government's executive branch, known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home. In 2001, the names were officially changed to the Armed Forces Retirement Home-Gulfport and the Armed Forces Retirement Home-Washington. Military veterans from each service branch can live at either home.


Washington Campus Today

The Washington campus features majestic views, rolling hills, tranquil lakes, and historic landmarks. The home is nestled on 272 acres in the heart of our nation's capital, just minutes from the White House, U.S. Capitol, and other national landmarks.

Considered a city within a city, the AFRH-Washington campus features 1,021 private independent living rooms, banks, chapels, a convenience store, and a post office. Beyond necessities, the home offers social, recreational, and occupational activities that include:

* a nine-hole golf course and driving range, walking trails, garden plots

* two fishing ponds stocked with crappie, bass, bream, and catfish

* a professionally equipped fitness center and physical fitness programs

* a computer center and two extensive print, audio, and video libraries

* individual work areas for ceramics, woodworking, painting, and other hobbies

* a six-lane bowling alley and leagues; card, game, and recreation rooms; and an auto repair shop

* a fully equipped, 600-seat theater for movies, bingo, live entertainment and other events

* bus tours to area attractions and numerous special events, trips, and activities

Many residents of AFRH-Washington spend time off-campus with their children and grandchildren; others enjoy the world-class theaters, museums, restaurants, and attractions in the metropolitan area; and some take advantage of nearby Andrews Air Force Base for "space-available" European travel.


AFRH-Washington ensures that every resident, regardless of financial ability, will receive top-rated long-term care when needed. The JCAHO-accredited, on-site, 200-bed King Health Center offers primary, intermediate, and skilled healthcare. Physical, occupational, and recreational therapists and speech-language pathologists work with residents at the center. In addition, AFRH-Washington provides scheduled daily transportation to surrounding hospitals, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Washington VA Medical Center.


Eligible residents include those who are honorably discharged members of the armed forces, at least one-half of whose service was not active commissioned service (other than as a warrant officer or limited duty officer), and who fit into one of the following categories:

* Veterans at least 60 years old who were discharged or released from service in the armed forces under honorable conditions after 20 or more years' active service.

* Those who are determined to be incapable of earning a livelihood because of a service-connected disability incurred in the line of duty in the armed forces.

* Veterans who served in a war theater during a time of war declared by Congress or were eligible for hostile fire special pay, were discharged or released from service in the armed forces under honorable conditions, and are determined to be incapable of earning a livelihood because of injuries, disease, or disability.

* Those who served in a women's component of the armed forces before June 12,1948, and are determined to be eligible for admission because of compelling personal circumstances.


Throughout 2006, AFRH has demonstrated its resolve to uphold the promise Congress made in 1811 to care for retired and eligible veterans. Despite the setbacks caused by Hurricane Katrina, the organization continues to provide housing and care to veterans. AFRH vows to continue to thrive and remain financially independent, while it faces the future with renewed vigor.

For more information about the Armed Forces Retirement Home, phone (800) 422-9988 or visit To send your comments to the author and editors, e-mail


A collaboration of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management Not-for-Profit Report, appearing in every issue of Nursing Homes magazine, addresses issues of particular interest to long-term care's not-for-profit sector. It provides nonprofit aging service providers with an additional information resource. Topics have been identified in collaboration with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Nursing Homes welcomes comments and suggestions for future coverage.

RELATED ARTICLE: AFRH's Vision and Mission


Provide an environment that nurtures the Health and Wellness philosophy of aging and that provides a continuum of residential Life Care Services in a community setting for our Nation's Heroes.


To fulfill our Nation's commitment by providing a premier retirement community for our veterans through a residential quality care and supportive services environment.

The AFRH has a long and distinguished tradition of excellence in serving the veterans of the Armed Forces, and we will strive to continue that tradition in the coming years.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Medquest Communications, LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:NOT-FOR-PROFIT report
Author:Peltier, Michael
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Previous Article:Living the good life.
Next Article:Welcome to Product Watch.

Related Articles
Political correctness in the British armed forces.
Military call-up prompts focus on USERRA: the law gives job and benefits protection to reservists returning from active duty.
An about-face: young blacks and Latinos who enlist in the military for skills and training are still getting turned away by employers.
Presidential candidates present views on DAV priority issues.
'Serving Then, Serving Now'.
Veterans' critical needs.
What emergency?
SAFE Commission defended.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters