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Court Program Gives Veterans A Second Chance

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - When Richard Ruffert retired from the U.S. Army as a 22 year combat veteran he had money, a house, a family, and a terrible secret.

"I got addicted to pain pills while I was on active duty," Ruffert said. "I got addicted Xanax to calm the anxiety because of PTSD."

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even the simplest moments in civilian life were marred by Ruffert's time in combat. Once, Ruffert was driving when a tornado siren sounded, mentally transporting him back into combat.

"I'm going down the interstate and the siren goes off and I'm reaching for my gas mask. Thinking that we were having a gas alert. And that's what we call trigger points and that causes our PTSD to get worse," the combat veteran said. "I did a lot of things I shouldn't have done. I pushed my family away. I pushed my kids away, the people that loved me I was too embarrassed to tell them I had problems."

Ruffert lost his family, his home and his will to live. One day, he recalls driving to a mall parking lot and covering his car's windows with trash bags. He then said he took 90 morphine pills in an attempt to overdose.

"I had taken so much morphine it had dried out, they couldn't stick a tube down my throat even with lubrication. I was passed out but I do remember the doctor hitting me on the chest saying, 'Richard, if you want to live you have to swallow,'" Ruffert said.

Ruffert recovered, only to end up in jail. A single question from his defense lawyer saved his life.

"He asked me if I had a mental disorder," Ruffert remembered. "I told him I did he asked me what it was and I was shocked. Right there and then that changed my life"

Ruffert was among the first group of Texas veterans admitted to a program to have minor criminal charges against them dropped if they complete treatment for their PTSD. Graduating from the Veteran's Diversion Program requires counseling, drug testing and constant monitoring by the court.

"A year ago I didn't have a nickel to my name," the combat veteran said while seated in his Fort Worth apartment. "Everything you see in my apartment is brand new. I have a job. I have a purpose in life. I look back at my past. And as bad as it is I wouldn't change anything. Because the man that i am today is because of my past."

Ruffert is the program's first graduate. He received a plaque from the judge administering the program and a standing ovation from the more than a dozen veterans who reported to the courtroom as part of their ongoing participation in the program.

"My purpose was to get my life back with God," Ruffert said. My purpose was to get my life back with my kids. My purpose is to be a minister to help my fellow veterans, not just in Tarrant county or in Texas, but nationwide. And that's why I can tell my story."

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