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Veteran advocates remember Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson, then director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, appeared on the Feb. 21, 2007, PBS NewsHour about the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The death Thursday of Army veteran and advocate Steve Robinson, who made several appearances on the PBS NewsHour, prompted words of praise from veteran advocates and others who knew him. Robinson was 51 years old.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote of Robinson: “He was a lion of a man. And the most important vets advocate of our time. He led the Gulf War Resource Center, mentored countless young vets, predicted most of the current VA problems, and never stopped fighting for our community.”

From Steven Wessels, founder of the Warrior Family Foundation: “Steve was known as a leader and great(est) champion for the veteran and military cause. Steve was the ally I needed when I imagined this endeavor at WFF. He never shied from setting me straight, altering my course, dusting me off and sending me back in, perhaps a bit more focused.”

Wessels recalled a story about Robinson’s dedication to his wife Patti. “When Steve was deployed (a decorated Ranger) he realized that a wedding ring wasn’t ideal in combat theatre. So, on his wedding ring finger he tattooed ‘Patti’. When I asked about it he answered, ‘Oh Wes, we are forever anyway, so it is actually better than a band of gold.’”

Robinson lent his perspective as an Army veteran and advocate on the NewsHour. In one appearance on Feb. 21, 2007, (video above) he described efforts to get problems with the patient care and facilities addressed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“This issue isn’t about mold and mice. There’s a larger, systemic problem about capacity and case managers who are in the hospital addressing the individual needs of every service member and their family that come through that facility,” he said.

Robinson also spoke about the push to create electronic health records for members of the Armed Services on the April 9, 2009, NewsHour: “The head of the snake is making sure that the Department of Defense correctly makes diagnoses with people before they send them to the V.A. If a veteran doesn’t get the correct diagnosis with this new electronic medical record, then they’re going to have problems getting into the V.A. health care system.”

In 2010, he wrote for the Huffington Post about his experiences as an adviser on military and family issues to the PBS series This Emotional Life. He recounted his own family’s struggles when his father returned from multiple deployments to Vietnam:

“When my father returned from war he clearly had PTSD, but they didn’t know what to call it back then. He didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol to bury the memories of war from his mind. Instead he buried himself in work, becoming rigid and intolerant of others and their ideas of the meaning of life. He turned to religion as a means to escape confronting his experience in war. He was hard on his kids, his wife and in his mind everything had life or death consequences.

“As a military family today it’s important to read everything you can about the occupational and emotional experience of war. The more you know the better prepared you will be if problems occur and you can start building a set of resources.”