VA, Royal Hospital Chelsea share similar foundations

Photo by Dave Boyd
Maj. John Tatham, of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, in London, spoke at the VA Medical Center about the similarities and differences of the two facilities as part of the VA Centennial Celebration. The photo behind Tatham is an arial view of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
As the Veterans Administration Medical Center celebrates its 100 year anniversary, people in the area are not only learning about the history of Mountain Home, but also learning about a facility much like the VA which is located in England.
Major John Tatham, who serves as the Captain of Invalids and the curator of the museum at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, located in London, as well as two soldiers who are residents of the Royal Hospital, paid a visit to Mountain Home for the opening ceremony of the centennial celebration which was held on Friday. Tatham also presented a lecture about the history of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and what life is like for pensioners who reside there.
"The whole principal behind the foundation of our hospital is very similar to the principal behind the foundation of your home here," Tatham said.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded by King Charles II of England after he was persuaded by his advisors to discharge his army as a means of caring for soldiers who had served and had become disabled or aged. Mountain Home was founded as a branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and was patterned after an idea President Abraham Lincoln had. Both facilities serve to care for veterans who have borne the cost of war for their respective nations.
"May we all never forget the debt we all owe the men and women who have suffered and died on our behalf," said Tatham.
While the two facilities have very similar beginnings, as both were founded as homes for soldiers, the two have since gone separate paths.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was founded 310 years ago, remains to this day a home for soldiers who either retired from military service or were disabled during their time in service. Mountain Home has evolved from the Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers into a medical center where the focus is more on outpatient care than on housing veterans for the remainder of their days.
That particular difference highlights the diverse manner in which the two facilities provide for the veterans under their care.
At the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a veteran must be at least 65 years of age in order to become a resident at the facility. He must also be in receipt of a pension from the government either by completing a set number of years in military service or by being disabled as a result of military service. "That was the whole concept of the hospital, that it should be a rest home for the pensioners," Tatham said.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a hospital in name only, according to Tatham. There is an infirmary at the hospital, but for the most part, the veterans who reside at the facility live in dormitory style housing, in rooms which are called cubicles.
"The cubicles originally measured six-feet square and today they measure nine-feet square, which is not really large," Tatham said. "After seeing the space here in your domiciliary, I believe these two pensioners here don't want to go back to Chelsea. In fact, they have already made an offer to stay."
The two pensioners Tatham referred to are Bob Middleton, who served in the army for 17 years and was involved in World War II and the Korean War and was twice a prisoner of war, and Alf Amphlett, who spent 23 years in the army and worked with the English experiments with the atomic bomb and served on three expeditions to the South Pole. Both Middleton and Amphlett were decorated for their military service.
The two men laughed as they discussed the differences between life at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and life in the domiciliary at Mountain Home. "Ours is prehistoric compared to this," Middleton said. "It's an old building and it was built with no plumbing and no electricity."
Amphlett agreed and commented on what he called the "luxury" of the Mountain Home domiciliary. "I've never had it so good really," he said. "They've taken great care of us."
A similarity between the two facilities is the emphasis placed on helping veterans get the most out of life. Mountain Home focuses on getting patients out of the domiciliary and into the community playing an active role. At the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pensioners are encouraged to take up hobbies or other activities and to go into the community even though they reside at the hospital.
"Whatever we really can give them which will enable them to enjoy their lives more we try to give them," Tatham said. "We are putting as much emphasis into life as we possibly can for our pensioners. The whole idea of the Royal Hospital is that they can bring family and friends in to entertain or they can go out. We don't try to tell them they can't go out once they come here to live."
During their stay in Northeast Tennessee, Tatham, Middleton and Amphlett all made friends with the staff of the VA as well as with local veterans. "It's a beautiful country. I've made more friends here than I did in Britain," said Middleton. Amphlett stated that he too had made friends. "I'm glad we're still friends after that war of independence," he said. "I'm glad that our two countries could stick together."