Steve Robinson, veterans' advocate and retired Army ranger, died Thursday at age 51. (Photo courtesy of Paul Sullivan)
WASHINGTON — Steve Robinson, a former Army Ranger and veterans’ advocate who pushed for benefits for veterans dealing with the aftermath of combat, died last week at the age of 51.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden death of Steve Robinson,” said Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “Steve transformed care for our servicemembers and our veterans, just as he was passionate about honoring and caring for the families of our fallen.”
Robinson first made headlines when he worked with soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., who had been pushed out of the military with “personality disorders” rather than post-traumatic stress disorder. A personality discharge is administrative, which means a soldier receives no health benefits. Post-traumatic stress disorder, if it causes a soldier to be unable to work, requires a medical retirement hearing.
Robinson, who worked as director of Veterans for America at the time, testified about the problem before Congress, which then brought in the Government Accountability Office to investigate. He kept after the military, applying pressure with his friend Andrew Pogany, also a former soldier. When the discharges changed from personality disorder to adjustment disorder to “pattern of misconduct,” the pair argued each category amounted to kicking out combat-wounded servicemembers without benefits.
During the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal in 2007, Robinson testified before Congress several times about what needed to be done to end the long wait times and bureaucratic tangles servicemembers faced as they waited for medical retirement after being injured in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In 2010, Robinson wrote about how the military affected his own family, and why it was important to him to help veterans. He was known for answering calls at 3 a.m., talking veterans down from suicide and getting them immediate help, working with military victims of sexual assault, and being so persistent that military officials banned him from Fort Carson.
As a Persian Gulf War vet, Robinson became the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center and spent much of his time convincing doctors, veterans’ service organizations and Congress that Gulf War illness was a physical ailment, as well as looking for answers for what caused 200,000 veterans to come home sick.
Pogany, chief executive officer at the Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group, called Robinson a “soul brother” and his best friend. Paul Sullivan, who has also worked with Robinson on veterans issues, called him a “wonderful friend.”
Though cause of death is not yet known, Robinson died Thursday in his office and friends say he had been having heart problems.
Robinson retired after 20 years in the Army in 2001, serving with the 1/75th Ranger Battalion, as well as working as a Ranger instructor. He was also a long-range surveillance detachment team leader in Korea, and worked as a briefer and analyst to the secretary of Defense on health effects of the 1991 Gulf War. He was a member of the board of advisers for the Call of Duty Endowment.