Asheville veteran uses his experiences to help other veterans

There were 69 percent more opioid overdose deaths in 2016 in Buncombe County than 2015. But Kevin Rumley, whose story was 10 years in the making, is working to make sure people know recovery is possible. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

There were 69 percent more opioid overdose deaths in 2016 in Buncombe County than 2015. But a local man is working to make sure people know recovery is possible. His is a story 10 years in the making.

"That smile, man! That guy has an amazing smile," Dr. Eric Howard said of Kevin Rumley.

If you bounce around Asheville's music scene enough, there's a good chance you'll hear Kevin Rumley play. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the musician also cares about how things sound at home.

"There's another button, and it's called 3D. And it just blooms in your ears. That's when it all started. I was like, 'Oh my god, headphones! And I'm deaf from the bomb blast," Rumley said, showing off the audio setup for his laptop.

After high school, Rumley heard the call to duty.

"After my mom passed away, 11th and 12th grade were kind of difficult. I was kind of a reckless youth," Rumley said. "So, I had enough insight that, hey, I needed something to change, because this isn't working out. I had always looked up to the Marines and looked up to my dad. So, it was kind of an easy decision."

The Marines sent the rocker to Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"All I really remember is turning around, just to check rear security, and then right as I'm turning around, that's when the IED went off, and I just blacked out," Rumley recalled. "Just that feeling of like gasping for air, you know, like drowning, gulping, figure out what I am. I totally dissociated."

Rumley received the Purple Heart.

"Beneath that veneer is this huge story," said Howard.

It's a story that includes 32 surgeries, a story News 13 told 10 years ago, almost to the day. But there was suffering that couldn't be seen then.

"I vividly remember how difficult it was to create just a normal sentence, like that was really demanding of my brain at the time," Rumley said.

He came to Asheville physically recovered, but, internally, he was suffering from addiction.

"I was still in active use, still drinking heavily," he said

And Rumley was using opioids.

"Ninety percent of people that try to get off opiods are going to fail," Rumley said.

He's found success in long-term recovery.

"He has the story. His story is remarkable," said Howard.

Rumley's story and life were made better, because of mentor Howard.

"I ask him. I say, 'Why are you so happy?' Because he's always happy. He's a happy guy. He tries to real hard. He fights demons every day. And he goes, 'Well, when you're almost dead, it adds new perspective.' I'm like, OK," said Howard.

"I still can return to that state of mind where it's like, who am I? What am I? What is this? Every day," said Rumley, who used to intern for Howard at the Buncombe County Veteran's Treatment Court.

"Good morning," Judge Marvin Pope said to start court.

Howard worked as the coordinator of the court that is only for veterans. If a veteran charged with a non-violent crime pleads guilty, he or she can get help. And, if successful, the veteran can ultimately have his or her charge dismissed.

"The majority of our clients have committed non-violent crimes due to their dependence on drugs, or mental health issues," Howard said.

Rumley started mentoring the court's clients, like Nick.

"What is happiness to you now," Rumley asked Nick.

"Happiness now, in this context, is not being in cuffs," Nick said as he and Rumley laughed.

"He's earned their respect," said Howard.

"I'm not used to people being nice to me, treating me with respect, talking to me rather than talking through me," said Nick.

Rumley no longer works for Howard at the Veteran's Treatment Court.

"To Rumley, you take care of this team because they're going to take care of you. It's a great group of people. You can't do anything without them," Howard said through tears.

He stepped down to take a position with Asheville City Schools.

Rumley initially became the interim coordinator. The interim has been removed.

"He's going to crush it," said Howard.

"Music was the great healer, and it always has been," said Rumley.

With music as an outlet, who knows where life will lead Rumley in another 10 years.

"In 10 years, he might be the secretary of Health and Human Services. I might need a job," said Howard.

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