Cool in Combat

Family attorney Justin Crozier was an Army mental health specialist

Published in 2023 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine

By Emma Way on November 9, 2023


In combat, tempers run hot.

“You have to maintain an edge,” says Justin Crozier, who worked as a combat medic and mental health specialist in the Army for 10 years. “Without it, you’re not going to be able to do the job that you’re hired to do—to keep us safe.”

But the problem with that mindset, he adds, is that it can cause military personnel to remain guarded, and not share the struggles they’re experiencing. Crozier compares it to an overheated car: Putting your foot on the gas until the engine goes into the red—that’s combat. When soldiers come home, the foot is lifted, but the engine is still scalding.

“It can take a while for people to cool off and get back into a normal routine,” he says.

Crozier enlisted in the military in 2003, right before earning a bachelor’s in psychology from Iowa’s Graceland University. He was looking for opportunities to jumpstart a career in mental health, as well as pay off his student loans, and the Army looked like the ideal choice. After 12 weeks of basic training at Fort Bragg, Crozier spent eight months on combat medic assignments where, among other tasks, he assisted in emergency rooms and helped an airborne unit with practice jumps.

By 2005, he was working in a combat support hospital in Kansas City, where a typical day would start around 4:30 a.m., with 90 minutes of fitness training followed by a full day of work until 5 p.m. Once Crozier was finished at the hospital, he’d study for his MBA until about 10 p.m. Then he’d do it all over again the next day.

“I was not that disciplined in college or high school,” hey says. “But I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got an opportunity to do this; the Army is paying for me to go and get my MBA. Why not take advantage of it?’”

While each Army day was long, no two were the same. He helped educate new parents, and taught reintegration workshops to help soldiers through big life transitions; he counseled military members on issues like anger management and anxiety; and he handled domestic violence cases for military families, working with survivors to document injuries and patterns of abuse.

Sometimes he’d work with the same patients—for instance, group therapy could involve six-week stints for a dozen people—and other times it was check-ins for prescription refills or a referral. “It varied a lot, but three out of five days a week I was doing patient-related care,” he says.

Toward the end of Crozier’s decade in the military, he would travel for weeks at a time, helping mobilize medical units anywhere west of the Mississippi—from an air surgical unit in California to an ambulance company in Utah. “I would fly out there, I would get them the resources, I would get them soldiers, and I would get them training,” he says. “I was gone so much [from my family in Kansas City]. … That was probably the hardest time.”

In 2013, Crozier decided to make a change. In the span of about a year, he left the military as a captain, enrolled in the UMKC School of Law, and went through a divorce—which pushed him toward family law.

Crozier leans on his mental health experience often in his practice today: “I think to do a good job as an attorney, you almost have to be half of a therapist,” he says. And, as with his previous work, emotions often run high with his family law clients.

“Especially if they’re getting divorced, they feel as though they’ve been betrayed by someone,” Crozier says. “That’s a hard line to walk, and getting people to get over that gap and figure out how to communicate can take a lot of work.”

Crozier knows there’s no perfect divorce or system to manage mental health in the military. But he also knows that bringing the temperature down, in either situation, can go a long way. “I’m at my best when I’m not trying to get my client every possible thing they could ever want,” he says. “But rather, putting them in a situation so that, when they finish their case, they never have to come back and hire me again. They’re done.”

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