Joseph Rouse serves federal government for more than 60 years
By Lisa R. Rhodes Staff writer
Retirement is the last thing on Joseph Rouse's mind.
"I'm going to die right at this desk," said Rouse, 87, deputy chief of the Tort Claims Division at the U.S. Army Claims Service at Fort Meade. "The only way I'll retire is if I get married again, and who wants an 87-year-old man?"
While other senior citizens may look forward to retirement, Rouse, one of the oldest civilian employees at Fort Meade according to the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, looks forward to coming to work each day.
With more than 60 years of service to the federal government - first as an Army Reserve officer and then as a civilian employee - Rouse starts his day between 5 and 6 a.m. and works 50 hours per week.
"Work is his life. He loves coming to work," said Col. Jill Grant, chief of the Tort Claims Division and Rouse's supervisor. Grant said Rouse's devotion to his job may be "unusual" to other people, but not to Rouse's colleagues. "He's incredibly knowledgeable," she said. "He's got a good heart and he's a wonderful man to work with."
Rouse is responsible for reviewing claims and acting as the subject matter expert. The Tort Claims Division is responsible for handling claims against the Army or the Department of Defense.
Rouse began working for Tort Claims Division of the U.S. Army Claims Service in 1963 when the agency was at Fort Holabird in Baltimore. He started as the division's deputy commander and then became its chief in 1967. Three years later, the Claims Service moved to Fort Meade after Holabird closed.
Rouse said he has stayed at the installation for more than 35 years because he can "work and produce with the best."
Rouse, born and raised in Pimlico, Md., entered Reserve Officer Training Corps at Western College in Westminister. He received his commission in the Army Reserves in 1940 and entered active duty at Fort Meade the following year. Rouse then attended the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., and served as a unit commander for the infantry during World War II.
Rouse decided to enter law school after the war because he no longer wanted to lead infantry units. In 1947, he enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Law and graduated from what is now the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville in 1950. A year later he joined the Staff Judge Advocate Office at the Communications Zone in Orleans, France. Rouse worked as a claims officer and was responsible for helping to pay claims submitted by French citizens. He also worked to keep American Soldiers out of French jails and defended American Soldiers during court martials.
In 1955, Rouse enrolled in the Judge Advocate Officer Graduate Course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. He received a graduate diploma and completed the program in 1957. Rouse then worked as the Chief Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officer for the Army Surgeon General's Office in Washington, D.C. He was responsible for drafting policies and regulations on medical law and also supervised JAG elements in 10 medical centers under the Army Surgeon General's command.
Before starting his life's work, Rouse worked for three years as the Chief JAG Officer for the Military Assistance Group in Taiwan. Rouse taught the Chinese about American military law and advised the Chinese Judge Advocate Corps.
In 1971, one year after the Claims Service moved to Fort Meade, Rouse retired from the Army Reserves as a colonel. But it was during his tenure as the chief of the Tort Claims Division in the 1970s that Rouse made his mark in the federal government.
Jeffrey Axelrad, former director of the Federal Tort Claims Act at the Department of Justice, said Rouse single-handedly changed the way federal government pays Army claims made by military dependents. The Department of Justice determines whether to approve the largest settlements proposed by the Claims Service.
Axelrad said Rouse created a practice called the structured settlement. For example, instead of the federal government paying a military family a lump sum in a medical malpractice claim against the Army for a severely injured or handicapped child, the Torts Claims Division, under Rouse's leadership, worked with the family and a broker to set up a trust fund for the child, using government funds.
The trust fund, supplied by an annuity and managed by a bank or trust company, provided the family with a specific amount of money for a specific amount of time to pay for the child's medical expenses and/or education. If, or when, the child died, the money in the trust would be returned to the federal government.
"Rouse was really a strong believer in using trusts and annuities to ensure that injured people would get the benefit of payments we (the federal government) made under the law and protect them," Axelrad said.
With structured settlements, the federal government was more likely to pay a higher sum to injured parties because the money would return to the federal government if it was no longer needed, Axelrad said. Structured settlements also spared military families the trouble of resolving their claims through the courts. Rouse's brainchild, Axelrad said, is now a common practice in the public and private sectors.
Grant called structured settlements "innovative," a "win, win" for the injured and for the federal government.
Rouse said he believes in paying injured people "what they deserve" and not cheating them. "That's the kind of person I am," he said. "I changed the way people look at things in the Army, but I had the opportunity (to do so.)"
Ann Robb, Rouse's daughter and acting chief of Fort Meade's Plan, Analysis and Integration Office, said her family is proud of her father's contributions and his longevity at Fort Meade. "I think it's wonderful," she said. "He loves his job and the people he works with."
Although Rouse, a widower, has no plans to retire, he enjoys traveling and just returned from a trip to Ireland. "If I joined a big law firm, I wouldn't have been able to do the things I've done," Rouse said.
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