Flying high: Navy veteran heads up treatment court program

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 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
 
Darius Robinson spent four years serving in the U.S. Navy – and now he serves fellow veterans, in all the services, as the Veterans Treatment Court Coordinator at the Michigan 15th Judicial District in Ann Arbor.  “Veterans treatment courts address a real cost of war,” he says. “The veterans who come into the veterans treatment courts have committed an offense because something in their military service caused them to have a substance use or mental health condition. As a society, we have an obligation to ensure these veterans are made as close to whole as possible.”
Ann Arbor attorney Jinan Hamood, a friend of Robinson’s, wrote the first state grant for the Veterans Treatment Court, and when the funding came through and the court needed someone to manage the programs, contacted Robinson and suggested he apply for the position. After an intensive screening and interview process, he landed the job a year ago, working closely with Judge Christopher Easthope who initiated the program. “The court was looking for someone who knows the military culture with legal knowledge and an understanding of court operations,” says Robinson, a licensed Iowa attorney. “For me, this is a great way to give back to the rest of the veteran’s community. I love working with the other veterans to solve problems. Everyone involved with the Court is positive and helpful.”
The court, one of more than 100 similar courts across the country, focuses on substance abuse and mental health treatment while providing veterans with a community environment that encourages law-abiding behavior. The program graduated one veteran in 2013, and 14 in 2014, including five on Veterans’ Day. The graduates include two women and 13 men; a few are veterans from the Global War on Terror, but mostly are from periods between conflicts. “This is an absolutely rigorous program, not everyone makes it to graduation,” Robinson says. There is a rolling entry into the program throughout the year, and the next graduation will be in late Spring 2015.
The program recruits veterans from around Washtenaw County to donate their time as veteran-mentors for the court.  “Professionals such as doctors, dentists, and lawyers, can donate their time, pro bono, to helping veterans with various needs and problems,” Robinson says. “We also have a dedicated group of students from local colleges and universities, usually law students, who help set up and do administrative tasks.” People looking to volunteer can call Robinson at (734) 794-6761, ext. 47542 or e-mail DRobinson@a2gov.org.
The program does several outreach programs into Washtenaw County and the surrounding counties and works closely with various veteran associations that are helping to plan veterans’ treatment courts in their own locales, including in Monroe and Livingston counties. “There is a real need for veterans treatment courts to spread across both Michigan and the United States,” Robinson says. “As the judges find that a consolidated docket for some veterans is more time-effective for court management, and citizens find that problem-solving courts, such as veteran treatment courts, are more cost effective, when compared to other alternatives, then they will become more of the norm in communities.”
These programs help veterans to find resources that they both need and are entitled to receive, he adds. “The Department of Veterans Affairs, especially through the Veterans Justice Outreach Program, has been especially helpful in locating the right educational opportunities, appropriate housing, internships, and jobs. Many times, the VA offers a compensated work therapy program, where veterans can work at the VA while also attending their required treatment.”
Robinson’s first taste of military life was during high school, as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol where he earned the Amelia Earhart Award and Billy Mitchell Award.
He went on to earn his private pilot’s license while in graduate school, his favorite plane being the Piper Warrior, an all-metal, unpressurized, single-engine, piston-powered airplane with low-mounted wings and tricycle landing gear, with a single door on the copilot side, entered by stepping on the wing. He let his pilot’s license lapse while in law school. “The only flying I get to do now is on Delta,” he says with a smile.
Robinson spent four years in the active-duty U.S. Navy, following in the footsteps of a college roommate at Iowa State University who was enlisting.  “It seemed like a good idea,” he says. “I’d always been interested in the military, and since our country is at war, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Serving in Norfolk, Va., Robinson managed sailors in the accomplishment of facility maintenance, aircraft security, facility security, aircraft readiness, equipment inspection, and unit operational readiness, and performed administrative tasks necessary for personnel records and mission accomplishment. “I really enjoyed waking up every day to a new challenge,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to work with great Americans, who were all dedicated to accomplishing tasks and missions for a greater purpose.”
While his work involved a lot of time ashore, Robinson – who earned a Commodore’s Letter of Commendation, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and earned two Flag Letter of Commendations– also went to sea, on various ships. “Because I was part of a small community, Airborne Mine Countermeasures, within the Navy, our time on any given ship varied usually from one to three months, most of which was at sea. I loved the attention to detail, the planning, the inspection process, getting all the gear ready, and doing all the detailed work. I love checklists.”
After completing his service, Robinson earned a master’s degree in history at the University of Northern Iowa then became a substitute teacher in the Waterloo School District. “I’ve always enjoyed history, and it’s something that came naturally to me,” he says. “I enjoy seeing the big picture and understanding how society got where it is today. Also, history often gives glimpses into the future.”
He then decided to continue his studies and attend law school. “The law fascinates me, both creating and administering it. It’s a study and profession that gives a wide-angle view of culture and society,” he says. “The law is also a profession where people can come together to combine facts with our societal rules to create solutions. Also, it blends well with my love of history.”
He earned his law degree in 2013, magna cum laude, at the Ann Arbor campus of Cooley Law School, and where he was involved in the Cooley Law Review, Military Law Society, Delta Theta Phi, Ambassadors, and Graduation Marshals, and worked as a research assistant and as a intern in the Immigration Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic. “I most enjoyed the people – every single person from administration, faculty, staff, alumni, to fellow students were so positive and helpful,” he says.
In his leisure time, Robinson enjoys reading, going to movies, and running – and runs with Team Red, White, and Blue, an organization dedicated to helping veterans do social and fitness activities. He volunteers with local committees, taskforces, and groups that are dedicated to helping veterans and people with substance abuse problems. A native of Cedar Falls, Ia., he enjoys his adopted town of Ann Arbor. “I love the variety and quantity of food here,” he says. “However, whenever I get a chance, I spend time back in Cedar Falls, where my mom and dad live.”
 

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