Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - The local veteran community is mourning the loss of one of itsbiggest advocates. Tom Cray died on Friday at the age of 67.
Cray served two combat tours with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war. When he returned to Rochester, he helped create the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC). He spent nearly four decades advocating for veteran's rights and helping many reintegrate back into the civilian world.
Through the center, Tom also helped local veterans find help with employment, benefits counseling and much more until his retirement from the organization in 2010.
"He was a special person, he had a vision that most people certainly at that time didn’t have and today don’t have," said current VOC executive director Laura Stradley. "But he had the commitment and the drive to see it through and make a tremendous impact on thousands and thousands of veterans in this region."
Laura also stressed Tom's work to help veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before the illness was widely understood and treated.
"Our country went through a dark period when we couldn’t separate the war from the warrior, and Tom knew that, and he did everything in his power to make sure the warriors that came back knew they had a home and knew they could get services," said Stradley.
Tom was diagnosed with a brain cancer known as glioblastoma earlier this year. His illness sparked new efforts to help Vietnam War veterans who are suffering from brain cancer because of exposure to Agent Orange."
Thomas Cray,founder of the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester and a Vietnam Veteran, has died.
His doctors believed his brain cancer was linked to Agent Orange exposure during his two tours in Vietnam.
Cray, 67, founded the Veterans Outreach Center after his time in the Navy. He directed the center for nearly 40 years.
"Tom Cray served his brother and sister veterans in Monroe County with intensity and passion," said Todd Baxter, former executive director of the center. "Tom pushed this community out of our comfort zone when taking care of veterans was not popular. Because of Tom, the Veterans Outreach Center was born and is now the oldest local non-profit in America serving veterans. Tom will never be replaced and will always be remembered."