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Sen. Cory Booker greets Pat Sullivan near the end of touring Rio Grande’s VA medical facility Aug. 27. 

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RIO GRANDE – Despite having briefings with officials regarding the U.S. response to the recent terror attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the city's airport, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) spent part of his day Aug. 27 visiting Rio Grande's U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical clinic. 

The senator entered the recently opened building around 1:30 p.m., greeting facility staff and veterans in the waiting room anticipating his arrival.  

Booker and some of his staff spent the visit touring the facility, getting hands-on experiences in its patient rooms behind sliding doors. Throughout his tour, Booker ran into several staff members, greeting them with handshakes and was given insights about their role at the facility. 

After his tour, staff and local veterans gathered in one of the facility's conference rooms to hear remarks from the senator, where he also presented an annual excellence award given by the Wilmington VA to one of the clinics it operates, this year's recipient being the faculty of the Rio Grande office. 

Booker visited the facility as treacherous conditions in Afghanistan continued.  

The day before, 13 U.S. service members were killed after a terrorist attack in the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport, with ISIS-K, a group affiliated with the Islamic State, claiming responsibility. The attack happened amid the U.S.'s continued efforts to withdraw American citizens and others from Afghan soil after the Taliban takeover weeks ago. 

Booker said he received a briefing on the situation from federal officials while sitting in his team's black sedan moments before entering the building. 

"Today is a very sad day for our country," Booker told the group.  

"My heart is breaking knowing that there are lost soldiers and service people," he added, after which he led those gathered in the conference room in a moment of silence. 

Since beginning his tenure in the U.S. Senate, in 2013, the senator has worked on increased veterans care throughout the state, some of which includes being at the forefront of building an outpatient clinic in Sussex County and a standalone women’s medical center, in North Jersey. 

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Sen. Cory Booker Aug. 27 speaks to veterans and staff after touring the Rio Grande VA medical facility, which opened Dec. 8, 2020.  

In his remarks, Booker stressed the importance of caring for U.S. veterans after they retire their service uniforms, not just medically, but also assisting them into career opportunities. Locally, he highlighted remarks said to him byVince Kane, medical center director, Wilmington VA, about the facility's staff and their continued care for area veterans after opening the new location.

Booker also stressed helping the veteran community as one of his office's priorities. 

"We know that the central part of our nation's focus should be the wellbeing of our veterans," Booker said. 

The Rio Grande facility opened Dec. 8, 2020, closing the former site, on the Coast Guard base, in Cape May, and providing patients with a more accessible medical center at the newly rehabbed County Commons, off Routes 47 and 9.  The facility is still offering the same services, according to a release issued ahead of its Dec. 8, 2020, opening, and even held several Covid vaccination clinics in the first half of 2021. 

"As more and more veterans come into the system, in Cape May County, this, being a central location, is better for them," John Vollrath, of Court House, who, while in Vietnam, served with the 101st Airborne, a division of the U.S. Army, told the Herald. 

Vollrath has been under the VA’s care since the Cape May location opened and is looking forward to the program's newly planned projects becoming a reality, referring to a planned, upgraded facility in Atlantic County.  

"The care starts with the people that are working here," Vollrath said. "They got a good staff here, which gives you the care you come in for. They give you the best care they can with what they have.” 

Even before visiting the site, Booker and his colleague, Sen. Robert Menendez (also D-NJ), and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) commended the Wilmington VA for its continued services to veterans and its commitment to reopening a new facility in Cape May County. 

"We want to make sure that every veteran in New Jersey does not have to spend hours and hours in traffic going to a different state to get their services," Booker said. 

To contact Eric Conklin, email econklin@cmcherald.com

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Sen. Cory Booker Aug. 27 speaks to veterans and staff after touring the Rio Grande VA medical facility, which opened Dec. 8, 2020.  

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