Redford's career path lands him in a tailor-made role helping veterans

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James Robert Redford stands in front of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, which he now oversees as Director of Military and Veteran Affairs for the state.

Photo by Cynthia Price

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

In a career that has wound back and forth between the military and the law but has been based on serving the public, James Robert Redford has now found a perfect home as the Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA).

Governor Rick Snyder originally appointed Redford the interim director on Feb. 19, the same day as an Auditor General report came out citing serious problems with the Grand Rapids Veterans Home. At the time, Redford was serving as the governor’s general counsel. The permanent MVAA appointment was announced on April 27.

“It was a huge honor to be asked to serve,” Redford says. “I was honored to act as general counsel, and 14 months later to be asked by the governor to head up this  agency was also a great honor and a privilege.”

The MVAA falls under the auspices of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, whose director is Major General Gregory J. Vadnais.

While the purpose of the MVAA is to serve “as the central coordinating point, connecting those who have served in the Armed Forces and their families to services and benefits throughout the state of Michigan,” overseeing the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is a significant part of Redford’s position.

Naturally, it is a responsibility Redford does not take lightly. His 28 years in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps — five years in active duty and 23 years in the Naval Reserve, including time spent as a military trial judge — have made him both knowledgeable and compassionate about the treatment of veterans.

Redford has certainly served his country and his community in other ways as well.

He graduated from John Carroll University and received his J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School. He also studied international law at the University of Notre Dame’s London Law Center during his time at UDM.

Simultaneous with his reserve service, Redford was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District, and in private practice with Plunkett Cooney. He served as a judge in the Kent County District Court  from 2003 to 2014.

The native Detroiter came from a large family that valued hard work and community service, and all his life has reflected that. He served on and chaired the Michigan Supreme Court Committee on Model Civil Jury Instructions, and was on the Michigan Judicial Institute Academic Advisory Board. He has served on the local boards of both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as Alternative Directions Half Way House.

Redford has also won a number of prestigious awards, including the U.S. Navy’s Legion of Merit in 2012.

After leaving the Kent County bench for an unsuccessful Michigan Supreme Court run in 2014, Redford was appointed to the General Counsel position, which he greatly enjoyed.

But when Governor Snyder asked him to help redress the issues at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, he heeded the call.

At the time of his permanent appointment, Snyder stated, “I knew Jim was the right person for the job because of his steadfast commitment to his country and to the fellow sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen who have served with him. Jim’s quick work in addressing deficiencies within the department in just the first two months as interim director show[ed] great promise.”

Redford himself is quick to point out that addressing all the problems will take time. “We’re making progress, we’re improving, but we’re not done yet,” he says. “I spend a lot of time with legislators and I’m honest with them about that,” he says.

The home provides nursing care and domiciliary services to military veterans and their widows, widowers, spouses, former spouses, and parents. The mission is “to provide compassionate, quality, interdisciplinary care for the members to achieve their highest potential of independence, self-worth, wellness, and dignity.” There are approximately 400 people receiving care, plus 47 domiciliary residents.

Some of what the report found lacking included controls of non-narcotic medications, recordkeeping on member care and member accounts, poorly-organized financial management, the way complaints are handled, and staffing shortages.

Redford has worked with the Michigan Veteran Health System and with contractual providers to address a lot of the failings in the Auditor General’s report, and demonstrable gains have occurred. He also convened a task force to envision the future.

“We asked, ‘What should the delivery of veterans care in Michigan look like for the next 20-25 years?’ So much in health care is changing all the time,” Redford says.

A similar but smaller home in Marquette, D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans, also falls under Redford’s supervision, along with other non-residential programs.

The former judge clearly takes his charge to heart. He tells of attending a Catholic mass at the facility and going over to an older veteran bent over in a wheelchair during the greeting of peace, grasping his hand, and saying, “Peace be with you.”

“He looked up at me, gave me a  firm handshake and said, ‘And also with you,’ in a strong, clear voice,” says Redford. “Sometimes I feel so shallow because I forget just how vibrant and strong they were.
“These are impressive, dedicated people who were willing to die for the country, and it’s a privilege to serve them.”
 

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