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Purple Heart Veteran Helps Others Pick Up The Pieces

Kevin Rumley had a near-picturesque upbringing that he describes being like a 1950s Disney movie. Growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, Rumley and his two brothers played music, rollerbladed and skateboarded on the halfpipe their dad built them.

When Rumley was a teenager, his mother died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism. That experience was the first of many challenges that changed the trajectory of his life. He started doing drugs, drinking heavily and couchsurfing at friends’ houses. Rumley says he felt like he was on a slow path to death.

He decided to enlist in the Marines to carry on his parents’ dedication to service, but just one year in, his career came to an abrupt halt. He was on tour in Iraq when an IED exploded near him causing severe damage: he endured 32 surgeries, spent 18 months in the hospital, and was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Rumley also emerged from the hospital battling an addiction to the opioids he was prescribed, and soon after he was homeless and hunting for heroin.

Through help and hard work he managed to take control of his life once again, and today Rumley has a master’s degree in social work, is a drummer and runs the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, a program that helps divert veteran offenders from prison to community service and recovery. Host Frank Stasio speaks with Rumley about the enduring lessons from his many life experiences.

Note: This program originally aired on November 12, 2018.

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.