Veterans Affairs officials have deployed an emergency mobile health center near the site of the condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla., as they await word on a department doctor feared killed in the tragedy.
Sixteen people are confirmed dead but 147 remain missing since the collapse last week. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said the mobile center was deployed just a few days after the accident, to provide counseling and support service to veterans and non-veterans in the area.
“Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with everyone impacted by the tragic building collapse,” he said. “We’re monitoring the situation very closely.”
McDonough said officials still don’t know how many veterans were injured or displaced by the collapse, potentially one of the worst such accidents in the history of America.
Among the missing is Gary Cohen, a doctor who works at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center along with other Alabama hospitals. According to local news reports, Cohen was visiting a sick family member at the site when the collapse occurred.
McDonough told reporters Wednesday that he did not have any additional information on Cohen’s status. “Obviously, our prayers go out to him, his family and the team in Tuscaloosa.”
Deploying a mobile vets center to the scene of natural disasters or other public tragedies has become standard practice in recent years. In January, a pair of the oversized trucks were sent to Capitol Hill to help guardsmen, Capitol police and congressional staff in the wake of the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection there.
McDonough said the Florida center is currently serving local veterans, first responders and non-veterans living in the community. The department’s “fourth mission” is to act as a backbone for civilian health care systems in cases of emergency or national need.
Veterans involved in the accident who need assistance can also contact VA through the department website for other support.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.