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The Fixer

Our government doesn’t take care of its veterans. Steve Robinson does.

BEFORE THERE WAS Walter Reed—before the revelations in The Washington Post, before the congressional hearings and presidential commissions and resigning generals—there was Joshua Murphy and his bad dream. In November 2005, Murphy returned home to Wichita Falls, Texas, after service that included a year patrolling the treacherous Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City as a specialist in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Prior to the war, he had been outgoing, social, well-liked—“just your basic eighteen-year-old kid,” in the words of his mother, Monica. But, after he came home, he started drinking heavily and hardly slept—in no small part because of a recurring nightmare.  In it, Murphy, who was a driver in Iraq, was in his Humvee. The Tigris River was on one side of him, a crowd of innocent Iraqi citizens was on the other, and a band of insurgents were right in front of him. His little brother and sister were in the backseat, and Murphy knew he had a terrible decision to make.

A few months after coming home, Murphy was driving down his small town’s main street when a police officer signaled for him to pull over. With the flashing lights behind him, his mind raced and he went into a daze. He gripped the steering wheel and kept driving. Finally, a block or so later, he managed to stop the car. He was handcuffed and charged with evading arrest. Murphy’s public defender convinced him to plead guilty and take probation with no prison time. But, a few months later, he was arrested again after another incident (those charges are still pending) and, because he was on probation, was sent to jail.

Monica had long been convinced that her son had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an often-debilitating psychological condition that is thought to affect up to a fifth of the 1.5 million troops who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Desperate to find help, she had called his base, Fort Polk in Louisiana, but officials there weren’t able to do anything. She contacted a V.A.-run PTSD clinic in Oklahoma City, but its staff couldn’t find any record of Murphy even having been in the military. She called her local congressman, the Red Cross, the clinic in Wichita Falls, and the V.A. offices in Fort Worth and Austin. “Nobody wanted to help,” she says.

Finally, this February, Monica read an article about the district attorney’s office in Norfolk, Massachusetts, which had set up a special program for veterans. The program’s director, Kevin Bowe, told her he wasn’t sure what he could do for someone 2,000 miles away, but he thought he knew someone who could help: a Washington, D.C.-based veterans’ advocate named Steve Robinson. Bowe e-mailed Robinson, who in turn contacted Monica and then made a few phone calls of his own.

Within days, Murphy had an appointment scheduled with a nearby V.A. counselor who—it turned out—made weekly trips to Wichita Falls. And Monica received an e-mail from V.A. Secretary Jim Nicholson’s office offering to sort out the problem with Murphy’s service records. Although she is still struggling with her son’s legal troubles and the V.A.’s bureaucracy, Monica calls Robinson her hero. “He and Kevin Bowe did in less than a week what I have fought to get for nearly two years,” she says. Bowe, for his part, says, “She’s lucky that I knew Steve.”

ONE MORNING in late February, Steve Robinson sat in his sparse office in Washington, a few blocks from the White House, checking his voicemail messages. There were going to be a lot of them: The first story about the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had come out in The Washington Post just two days before, and Robinson was in high demand. He cracked open a tin of Copenhagen snuff and tucked what seemed to be a third of its contents under his lower lip, then scanned his finger down a notepad of to-dos. “Let’s see,” he said. “So, right now, I’ve got nine phone calls to make on top of whatever this is.” He punched a few buttons on the phone: You have five new messages. Would you like to hear them?

Robinson estimates that he gets three or four calls from veterans in need every day, many of them entrenched in what he dubs the neverending “battle of paperwork.” Wary of being seen as a caseworker (“I don’t do claims!” he insisted at one point), Robinson tends to redirect these veterans to larger organizations like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. But, every once in a while, a case like Murphy’s will catch his eye and he’ll devote most of his waking hours to it.

Robinson, who is 44 years old, is a large and imposing presence, built like a formerly muscular man who has lately turned his attention to other things—which is precisely what he is. For two decades, he served in the Army, as an Airborne Ranger out of Bad Tölz, Germany and later as a Ranger instructor in Florida. Most of his duty took place during peacetime, but his unit did conduct operations in the aftermath of the first Gulf war. He still bears a military aspect: a tight, Army-style buzz cut, a handful of tattoos, and, more significantly, scarred lips and a missing half-finger on his right hand from injuries sustained during a munitions training accident in 1989.

Since leaving the military in 2001, Robinson has dedicated his life to the cause of veterans and active-duty soldiers. He has been with a group called Veterans for America for the past year; before that, he spent four years as the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center. The journalists and congressional aides who keep his number on speed dial know him as the preeminent problem-solver for troubled and abandoned veterans like Joshua Murphy. Among veterans’ issues insiders, he is a ubiquitous figure: Rarely, over the past few years, has a major event in the world of veterans’ affairs—a journalistic scoop, a military investigation, a new law—transpired without Robinson influencing it in some way. In 2005, after Robinson helped publicize a sharp spike in suicides among active-duty troops, he met with Army officials to discuss how the military was failing its mentally ill. Then he was asked by Senator Barbara Boxer’s office to help write legislation that would create a Department of Defense task force on mental health. The following year, Robinson testified before that task force.

As the Walter Reed scandal has made clear, veterans’ affairs is badly in need of reform. More injured soldiers are coming home than at any time since Vietnam—and with a ratio of wounded-to-killed greater than five times the one from that war. Moreover, they are returning to facilities that, in some cases, haven’t been upgraded since the 1970s and that are maintained by a department that is notoriously bad at planning. In 2005, the V.A. had a $1 billion shortfall because it had budgeted using data from 2002—before the war in Iraq had even begun. But the military (and, by extension, the V.A.) is also a uniquely challenging institution to reform. Civilian activists, although ardent, tend to have a hard time effectively penetrating the insular culture of the military, while politicians too often get bogged down in partisan rancor over the war itself. Internal reform is also hard to come by, the military being constitutionally adverse to admissions of weakness or error.

As a former noncommissioned officer, Robinson is uniquely positioned for this task: He has a rare knack for communicating with soldiers and a reputation for rising above ideological divisions. But what makes him truly effective as a fixer—both for individual vets and of institutional defects—is that, in addition to fighting battles for veterans every day, for much of his life he has fought one of his own. The military is in his blood—his father was a heroic Marine pilot who received multiple Purple Hearts in Vietnam—and he considers his time in uniform as some of his best years. Yet, in painful episodes throughout his life, he has come face-to-face with the limits of the military’s capacity for empathy and accountability. Robinson’s distinctive skill comes from struggling to square his deep love for the military with his frustration over its limitations.

ON HIS first day in Iraq, in September 2003, Georg-Andreas “Andrew” Pogany, a 32-year-old staff sergeant who had been deployed to Samarra with a unit of the Green Berets, came across an unzipped body bag. Inside it, Pogany could see the remains of an Iraqi combatant, shredded beyond recognition as even human. The image stayed with him. All that night, he was haunted by it, and when, the following morning, he could hardly walk from dizziness and nausea, he asked his commander to send him somewhere to get help. “I’m like two seconds away from a nervous breakdown,” he told him. Pogany didn’t know what psychological services were available to him, so, when his commander refused the request, he replied, “Then I guess you’re going to have to send me home.”

The Army did send Pogany home, but they also charged him with cowardice for leaving his unit. It was the first charge of the sort since Vietnam. Back in the United States, the press honed in on the story, and Pogany, who was being constantly harassed at his home base in Colorado, had no idea what to do. A reporter covering the story suggested he contact Robinson.

Robinson calls Pogany’s story “the reason I am the way I am.” At the time, he was doing advocacy work on behalf of Gulf war veterans, and this was the first Iraq or Afghanistan veteran with whom he had worked closely. The experience of this generation of veterans, Robinson would quickly discover, was unusually dire. They were relatively poor and from parts of the country both lacking in strong social services and isolated from the power-brokers and decision-makers in state and federal government. Meanwhile, an internal 2006 V.A. analysis estimated that the fraction of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health disorders could reach as high as 35 percent. Robinson and his numbers guru, a former V.A. official named Paul Sullivan, attribute this to the fact that soldiers patrol urban environments that lack safe areas and to repeat and extended tours, neither of which were common during Vietnam.

The Army’s treatment of Pogany struck Robinson as deeply unfair. It reminded him of a scene from the movie Patton, in which the general, while visiting a hospital for wounded troops, encounters one who is suffering from shell shock and slaps him for showing weakness. “I said to myself, My God, that’s got to be a mistake,’" he remembers. He picked up the phone and started making calls.

Robinson has been sensitive to veterans with psychological conditions ever since he was a child, when his father, James C. Robinson, came home from Vietnam. Robinson was born in 1962 (he is the second youngest of seven), while James was stationed at Quantico. The family never lived in the same place for more than two years, as James bounced from base to base: Cherry Point, New River, Whiting Field. James, a decorated pilot who flew helicopter rescue missions during the war, returned from his third tour of duty in Vietnam in the early ’70s. From that point on, according to Robinson, James disconnected almost completely from family life and became autocratic and inflexible. “He repressed himself and buried himself in religion,” says Robinson, who hasn’t spoken to his father in years. “It was almost a religious zealotry, which became uncomfortable for the family.” Patti Robinson, Steve’s wife, says James had a mean streak, too. “The wrath of that Marine, a hardcore Marine, came down upon the kids in that house pretty hard.”

Robinson has four older brothers, three of whom served in the military. But it was the example of his closest brother Ken, who was five years older, that Robinson says he followed when he joined the Army as soon as he turned 18. When I suggest to Ken that their father’s postwar deterioration might have been an impetus for Robinson’s present work, he replies, “Of course it is. It’s not kinda sorta maybe. Of course it is.”

ROBINSON STILL speaks fondly his years in service—his office is decorated with medals and photographs from that time—and, indeed, he seems for many years to have had a charmed career: a rapid ascent through Ranger Battalion; a special detachment with the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany; a prestigious gig teaching survival skills and parachuting to young Rangers back in Florida. But, by the time Robinson returned to the United States from his last overseas posting in 1995, he was starting to feel that his career had derailed ever since his accident six years earlier. For one thing, he had still not fully healed. He was initially well-treated at a civilian hospital in Germany, but his facial wounds required years of grueling reconstructive surgeries.

As he agitated for better care, he found himself being sidetracked professionally. Robinson took an assignment teaching ROTC to students at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola—hardly a promotion for someone with his qualifications. Then, in 1997, he endured a botched operation at a local military hospital—his wounds became infected, and he was left with a gangrenous sore that metastasized into a hole in the side of his face. ("You could put a golf ball through it,” Ken Robinson says.) Unable to sue—in the military, medical care is free, but doctors are generally protected from liability for wrongdoing—and unable to get a satisfactory response from his superiors, Robinson, a 16-year veteran and a commanding officer, collected money from friends and family to fly himself to Washington, where he checked into Walter Reed.

While there, Robinson heard about a task force in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that was looking into illnesses among Gulf war veterans. By that time, the term “Gulf war syndrome” had become a catchphrase for a number of conditions that the government, as a matter of policy, considered to be mostly psychosomatic. But the Department of Defense’s investigation was uncovering increasing evidence that, in at least one location in Iraq—a depot called Khamisiyah—more than 100,000 troops had been exposed to Saddam Hussein’s chemical munitions. Robinson wanted to be a part of this effort, and he applied for a transfer to the Pentagon. Once there, his job was to seek out soldiers who might be suffering from Gulf war syndrome and connect them with V.A. service providers.

But he quickly became frustrated. “I was now working, for the first time in my life, with the civilian leadership in the Pentagon,” he says. “And I began to see that some of the policies that they implemented were having an adverse effect on people that were serving in the military.” Robinson believed that the Defense Department was hiding crucial information from the public about American soldiers’ level of exposure to chemical weapons and not doing enough to help those who had gotten sick from it. “I was reading the raw intelligence,” he says. “And I questioned why we were either withholding information or not telling people about things—or correcting problems—because that’s what I thought we were there to do.”

In 2001, disillusioned by the lack of progress at the Department of Defense, Robinson retired from the military and, a few months later, took the job at the National Gulf War Resource Center outside Washington. Not long after leaving the Pentagon, Robinson applied for his retirement benefits. “I didn’t want to utilize my position to speed things through or raise hell, so I just waited,” he explains. “It took two and a half years.” At one point during the wait, Robinson was speaking before a congressional panel on veterans’ issues, and he said, “I testify before Congress, I track all these issues, and if I can’t get in, if my profile doesn’t cause you to expedite my claims, then what happens to all these other guys and girls?”

Robinson took his outrage with him into his advocacy work, although it didn’t initially serve him so well. He quickly developed a reputation for being hard-nosed and passionate, sometimes to a fault. James H. Binns Jr., a Vietnam veteran who leads a V.A. advisory committee on Gulf war illnesses on which Robinson served, says, “I remember at one of our first committee meetings, he got into a very emotional criticism of one of the Department of Defense people that was there because he had worked with this person previously and was offended by what he had done. ... He came across as kind of a hot-headed veteran who cared deeply about something but was seen more for his emotion than for his knowledge and facts.”

BY THE TIME Robinson heard from Andrew Pogany, he was, he says, starting to “understand how Washington, D.C., works.” More experienced advocates and policy wonks in the capital took him aside and told him that his anger, while impressive, was counterproductive. One of those mentors, a government official who is still friends with Robinson, says that young advocates often have “a lot of piss and vinegar, and they’ve got to get it out. So Steve had to get through that and realize that his viewpoints were going to be listened to.” Robinson also began to focus more on his argument than his emotions. “I changed my tactics,” Robinson says. “Instead of expressing my righteous indignation and creating enemies, what I learned to do was to beat people up with facts.”

As Pogany’s case began to receive attention from the press, Robinson took this lesson to heart. He stayed largely out of the limelight but spoke with Pogany constantly, offering advice on how to cope with the hectoring at the base and how to deal with the press. He stayed up late researching Army regulations and forwarding helpful passages to Pogany. Pogany suspected that his panic attack might have been linked to an antimalarial drug called Lariam that he had taken shortly before deploying. Robinson told Pogany about other cases of bad reactions to Lariam, and he helped Pogany and his lawyer construct a case against the drug. Over the next few months, with Robinson’s guidance, the press shifted its interest in Pogany’s story to the military’s use of Lariam, and the Army, while admitting no error, quietly withdrew its charges.

Around the same time, Robinson got another chance to put his more tactful approach to work. In October 2003, he got a call from a UPI reporter named Mark Benjamin, who told him that he had been hearing rumors about problems with the medical care at Fort Stewart, in Georgia. Two days later, Robinson showed up at the front gate of Fort Stewart with Benjamin, flashed his retired-military ID card, and drove onto the base.

Fort Stewart, situated in a small, run-down town lined with strip malls and gun stores, is the permanent home to the 3rd Infantry Division, the massive Army unit that spearheaded the U.S. military’s decisive charge into Baghdad in April 2003. By the fall of that year, more than 600 National Guardsmen and Reservists were in Stewart’s medical wards. In some cases, the medical barracks were makeshift facilities that had no hot water, no electricity, no air conditioning, and shared bathrooms. “There were people with bandaged wounds, there were people on crutches, there were people with mental problems, females that were pregnant,” Robinson recalls. “It just looked like a really bad place to put people when they’re trying to heal.” Meanwhile, Benjamin and Robinson discovered that many soldiers couldn’t even visit a doctor—according to one document Benjamin acquired, there were no appointments available for almost a month.

Back in Washington, Robinson started looking for an inside government contact. He cold-called Jim Pitchford, a military aide to Republican Senator Kit Bond and a former Marine, and invited him to visit the base. Shortly after Benjamin’s UPI wire story, "Sick, Wounded U.S. Troops Held In Squalor,” appeared, Pitchford and Robinson returned to Fort Stewart, this time accompanied by a stern-looking brigadier general assigned to keep an eye on them. “This is how I get to know Steve,” Pitchford told me recently. “We’ve got this hardened warrior sitting across from us, and you can tell from his body language that it’s probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to him: He’s got a Senate staffer and a veterans’ advocate on the same day, and he’s got to babysit us.” Pitchford laughed. “So Steve says to him—and I’ll never forget this—Listen, all I’m asking you to do is come with us and talk to some soldiers with us. I want you to see what I see and hear what I’m hearing.’" Together, the three of them walked over to the barracks full of injured troops, and Robinson started chatting. By the end of the day, Pitchford said, the general’s tone had changed completely. “He said, You’re right, we have let these soldiers down, and we’re going to fix this.’ And I’ll never forget it. His arms weren’t closed at the end of the day.”

A couple days later, and his Democratic counterpart on the Senate National Guard Caucus, Patrick Leahy, issued a report condemning the "totally inappropriate" care at Fort Stewart. They credited the uncovering of the problems to "a reporter and expeditious follow-up by a veteran service organization representative.” In addition to the degrading living conditions, the report noted that, in some cases, maimed soldiers were supervising other maimed soldiers—"the sick and injured leading the sick and injured.” Pitchford said, "If you read that report, it’s writing about things that happened again at Walter Reed. You want to say, Who was paying attention?’ Nobody was.”

THE ARTICLES about Walter Reed in The Washington Post, the first of which came out on February 18, described moldy, dilapidated living quarters, soldiers with head wounds being cared for by others with psychological conditions, and hundreds stuck in a bureaucratic purgatory. They surprised politicians, senior military officials, and the American public, but not Robinson. In December 2003, he had returned to Walter Reed to have a kidney stone removed. After his discharge, he started regularly visiting the hospital on weekends. He would bring his two bulldogs, Bluto and Cri Cri, and wander around the grounds, introducing himself to the veterans and offering to assist them. Sometimes, Robinson and his wife would round up a few of the guys and take them on daytrips in his Ford F-250 out to the mountains in Virginia. They all had PTSD, and were easily shaken in public, even by something as simple as the sound of children playing.

Robinson witnessed troubling activity at Walter Reed: soldiers sharing drugs, self-medicating with alcohol, wasting away alone without family or treatment. But, one morning in early 2004, he got an up-close look at the insidious way some superiors were treating veterans there. One of the soldiers who often came on the trips to the country was a baby-faced 34-year-old Army Reserve lieutenant named J. Philip Goodrum. Goodrum, who suffers from PTSD(the smell of diesel fuel can cause him to have a panic attack), was entrenched in a messy legal and bureaucratic struggle with the military over his benefits and a bogus charge that he had gone AWOL when he sought mental care from a civilian clinic. He was walking with Robinson across the Walter Reed campus to a meeting about his upcoming Article 15, an Army disciplinary proceeding. They passed by a colonel, one of the commanders of Walter Reed’s medical hold unit, and Goodrum, who was carrying reams of files, nodded to her and said, “Good morning, ma’am.” According to Robinson, the colonel “stopped in her tracks, came back, and got in his face and said When you see an officer, you salute.’ So he took all his paperwork and just dropped it—prrrut!—on the ground and saluted her. And he just stood there and wouldn’t move.”

Later that day, still fuming over the incident, Robinson headed to the main offices looking for Kevin C. Kiley, the commander of Walter Reed. Kiley happened to be standing in the front of the office, talking to his secretary, so Robinson walked up and introduced himself. He told him about what just happened to Goodrum and also mentioned his concerns about substance abuse in the barracks. Kiley directed Robinson to tell the story to his sergeant major, which he did. (An Army spokesperson says that Kiley is “not currently engaging media”; he has previously said he does not remember speaking with Robinson.) No one at Walter Reed ever got back to him.

ALTHOUGH HE had many successes in the first years of the war, including Pogany and the soldiers at Walter Reed who credited those trips to the Virginia mountains with saving their lives, Robinson was still feeling unsatisfied. In early 2005, he helped Benjamin, now at Salon, produce a long story about Walter Reed, but it went largely unheeded. That same year, the number of suicides among soldiers in Iraq doubled. Robinson was plagued by a pervasive sense that he couldn’t do enough, and he was starting to think that the Resource Center was not providing him with sufficient staff and money to take care of the new flood of veterans he was encountering.

Two years ago, he quit advocacy entirely and moved to Beverly Hills, intending, for all he knew, to never come back. His brother Ken was developing a TV show for NBC called “E-Ring” about the Pentagon’s special operations command and had invited him to work on the program. But, after only 14 episodes, the show was canceled, and Robinson moved to Florida and took a job as a manager at a temporary staffing agency. His wife, Patti, stayed in Arlington, Virginia, with their cat and two dogs and talked to Robinson every day. Patti remembers those few months well: “I think Steve needed a break.”

But Robinson was miserable. And, anyway, he hadn’t exactly succeeded in escaping from the veterans’ world. Reporters still called him constantly for quotes. Plus, many of his employees were themselves Iraq veterans, some homeless or drug users, and he found himself directing them to the local V.A. or arranging services for them. Four months after he arrived in Florida, he had enough. “I just called Patti up one night, and I said, I’m coming home,’” he says. Robinson accepted a job with Veterans for America and moved back to Washington. “I wanted to get back into the game,” he says.

RECENTLY, the game has started to change. Although Robinson was not directly involved in The Washington Post series, once it came out, he felt, for the first time in a long while, like he had momentum on his side. Less than a week into the scandal, William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense who oversaw health policy, resigned. (Robinson calls him “my principal nemesis for the past six years”; the Army has said his departure was planned prior to the Post’s revelations.) Then, after days of denials by top Army officials that they had any idea how bad things had gotten at Walter Reed, reports of Kiley’s 2004 meeting with Robinson showed up in the press. On March 1, Major General George W. Weightman, the commander of Walter Reed, was fired by Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey. The next day, Harvey himself stepped down under pressure from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He was followed nine days later by Kiley. By the end of the first week of March, House and Senate committees had held preliminary hearings on living conditions at Walter Reed, President Bush appointed a bipartisan commission to conduct a system-wide review of military health care, and the V.A. and the Pentagon initiated their own investigations. (Robinson testified before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on March 13.)

But these victories haven’t taken the pressure off Robinson. If anything, they’ve increased it. In early March, I joined Robinson in New York for a taping of an episode of the “Montel Williams Show” about veterans’ care. He arrived at the studio almost two hours early. It’s rare to find Robinson in a situation he has not carefully orchestrated, but the previous week had been so hectic that when he sat down on a couch in his green room, he seemed disoriented and exhausted.

“Here’s what living in my world is like,” he said finally. “This guy calls, he needs help, and he feels like he’s going to kill himself.” He picked up a napkin off a table and placed it on his right shoulder. “Put this right here. Then a father calls and says, My son’s got PTS, and the V.A. says it won’t help’"—placing another napkin on his left shoulder—“well, take care of that. And, before you know it, I’ve got a rucksack full of shit, of people that are depending on me to do something.”

Robinson had recently started talking about leaving Washington again, this time to work at a nonprofit in Colorado that helps veterans transition to civilian life. “My whole job is about battles of inches,” Robinson explained to me once. “But I like helping people recover from their wartime experiences. And that to me seems like it’s going to be much more fun and much more tangible than the battle of inches.”

Robinson’s mood improved when he realized that he knew some of the other panelists on the show. Out in the hallway, he came upon Kenneth Sargent, a diminutive 38-year-old whose recovery from a brain injury he suffered in Najaf, in 2004, had recently been featured in Newsweek. Sargent looked up and grinned. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” Robinson said, almost giddily. “Hey, buddy!" For the next 20 minutes, he roamed from green room to green room, visiting the other guests. He sat with Stefanie Pelkey, a former Army captain whose husband, Michael, had shot himself in the chest a year and a half after returning from Iraq, and then he stopped in on a young soldier whom he had met a few years ago, while the soldier was recuperating at Walter Reed.

Back in his own green room, waiting for the taping to begin, a steely poise settled over Robinson. There were still a lot of things to do before he could seriously consider leaving for Colorado—there were congressional hearings to testify before, a presidential commission to guide. And, more pressingly, down the hall, there were veterans he cared about and who needed his help. “I just want to see this through,” he said.

Robinson’s resolve reminded me of something he said the first time we met. He had been telling me about one of the Walter Reed veterans he had gotten to know on those trips to the mountains. The story seemed to become deeply personal to him, and, at one point, he cut himself off. “These troops believed the hype, just like I did, when they came into the military,” he said. “I believed that my life had value and that the government and the nation would do everything they could do to help me and my friends in the event anything happened to us. ... The reality was that I would come back, and these soldiers would come back, to a system that doesn’t treat them. I think we need to treat these guys almost like parents would—that’s the level of love and care and concern.”

Joshua Hersh is on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. This article appeared in the May 21, 2007 issue of the magazine.