THOMAS H. COREY: Decorated Vietnam veteran, advocate for disabled vets. PHOTO COURTESY OF VVA.ORG

WEST PALM BEACH – Decorated Vietnam veteran Thomas H. Corey will have a medical center named for him to honor his service to his country and his lifelong advocacy for veterans’ rights.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a Democrat whose district includes Palm Beach County, is cosponsoring a bill with Florida Republican Brian Mast to designate the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center as the Thomas H. Corey Health Care System of West Palm Beach.

Corey, who was past national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, died in 2022 at the age of 77 in Jupiter, Fla.

Cherfilus-McCormick said the bipartisan support “is a small token of appreciation for the countless sacrifices he made.”

“We owe Thomas Corey and his loved ones a debt of gratitude. His service continued long after his deployment in the Vietnam War, following him to West Palm Beach, where he became a community leader and was an unwavering advocate for local veterans,” she said.

Mast, whose district also includes portions of the Palm Beaches, served in the U.S. Army Reserve including a tour in Afghanistan. He had both his legs amputated and lost a finger after he stepped on an IED along a road.

“Thomas Corey’s life shows no injury was big enough to eclipse his mission to serve others,” Mast said.

“Renaming the VA medical center after Thomas is a recognition he deserves for his tireless work to locate the remains of his brothers-in-arm left behind in the jungles of Vietnam and his passionate advocacy for veterans in our community.”

Vietnam Veterans of America National President Jack McManus, a longtime friend of Thomas, said he has been an example to multitudes of veterans, and all who have contact with him.

“He showed us that no matter the hardship, if you have the willpower, you can make changes for the better in people’s lives," McManus said. "He did this every day, year after year, with commitment and compassion.”

All twenty-eight members of the Florida delegation co-sponsored the bill. Local and national veteran organizations, including the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America, have endorsed the bill.

Corey, a Detroit native, was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1967. He served as a combat infantryman and squad leader with the 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Battalion and 12th Cavalry.

While engaged in an assault against enemy positions in Quang Tri Province in 1968, during the Tet Offense, he received an enemy round in the neck, which hit his spinal cord and left him paralyzed and a quadriplegic. He was medically retired from the U.S. Army in 1968.

Corey is the recipient of the Bronze Star Medal with V device for Valor; two Purple Hearts; the Air Medal; the Army Commendation Medal; a Presidential Unit Citation; a Valorous Unit Citation; the Republic Vietnam Gallantry Cross; and the Combat Infantry Badge.

Corey returned to his family in Detroit where he spent his time in and out of the local VA hospital. He moved in 1972 to West Palm Beach, where he became deeply involved in community affairs as a veteran leader and advocate.

“It is a special kind of a person who can, when faced with such enormous disabling and physical challenges, have the strength and fortitude as Tom Corey has had for so many, many years,” said McManus. “Veterans are truly fortunate to have had the benefit of Tom’s advocacy for these past 42 years.”

Committed to overcoming institutional obstacles and improving the conditions he had encountered while a patient in the VA healthcare system, Corey joined Vietnam Veterans of America in 1980, two years after the organization’s founding.

In 1981, he started VVA Palm Beach County Chapter 25, which was renamed in his honor in 1991.

His drive to care for his fellow veterans fueled his advocacy, and in 1985 he was elected to VVA’s National Board of Directors, McManus said.

In 1987, he was elected to serve as VVA’s National Secretary and held the position for five consecutive twoyear terms.

In 1997, the VVA was the nation’s only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families.

In 2001, Corey was elected to serve as VVA’s national president and was re-elected in 2003.

Corey was known on Capitol Hill and within the VA for his dogged determination to address the barriers to care faced by his fellow veterans, McManus said.

"He fought for mandatory funding for veterans healthcare and services, believing that to deny adequate funding for quality healthcare and other services is to violate a sacred trust with the nation," McManus said.

In his role as Ombudsman and Program Specialists at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center office, he assisted his fellow veterans, giving them a voice and helping them navigate hospital life.