Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala., are mourning the loss of Dr. Gary Cohen, a psychiatrist at the hospital who was found dead last week at the site of the collapsed condo building in Florida.  

Cohen’s body was recovered July 7 from the debris at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. He was laid to rest in Birmingham on Sunday, according to the VA.  

The building, a 12-story beachfront condo building outside Miami, partially collapsed at 1:30 a.m. June 24. Cohen is among the 95 people confirmed dead.  

Cohen, 58, had worked as a psychiatrist at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center since 2009.  

“Dr. Cohen will be missed by our veterans and staff,” John Merkle, director of the medical center, said in a statement. “Our facility mourns the loss of one of our own and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who knew and loved him.”  

Cohen had traveled to Florida to visit his ill father, according to WIAT-TV, a CBS-affiliated news station in Alabama. He was staying with his brother, who had a condo on the 11th floor of Champlain Towers South. His brother’s remains have not been recovered.   

April Jones, an interim public affairs officer at the Tuscaloosa VA, interviewed Cohen’s colleagues for an internal VA blog. Cohen’s co-workers said they’ll remember his “big booming laugh” and his ability to tackle and discuss deep issues.  

“Dr. Cohen leaves a big hole in our specialty clinic,” Lisa Koontz, a chief nurse of specialty care, was quoted as saying. “It is like losing a family member.”  

One colleague, Dr. Michael Shortall, associate chief of staff for specialty care, recalled how Cohen would connect to his patients and ease their anxiety by starting appointments with a game of “Name that Tune.”  

At the Tuscaloosa VA, coworkers adorned his office door with a wreath, as well as written prayers and condolences. Staff members designed a commemorative token that employees will carry in his honor. The medical center is also planning a memorial service later this month.  

People mourn at the memorial wall for the victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse, in Surfside, Fla., on July 8, 2021.

People mourn at the memorial wall for the victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse, in Surfside, Fla., on July 8, 2021. (Pedro Portal, The Miami Herald/AP)

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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