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Carlos Share Story

My name is Carlos Ruiz. I am a paratrooper; I was with the 82nd Airborne Division 1st Brigade Combat Team. I enlisted when I was 17 and was deployed to Afghanistan soon thereafter for a year. My time in war consisted of riding in the gunner position in a Humvee. I provided cover during supply runs and security during improvised explosive device detonations. I was involved in combat engagements and lost many brothers to the war.

When I came home, I didn’t know I had PTSD. I just knew I had trouble sleeping. Then I started to become depressed. It didn’t take long for my commanding officers to put me on suicide watch. After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I was put on medication, but I became even more depressed and suicidal. My hyper vigilance never went away, so when I went out in public I would have anxiety attacks. To cope with this, I began to drink. After binge drinking for many months, I gave myself liver damage and was always sick. Reaching the end of my Army contract, I started doing drugs for the first time in my life to help cope with what I was going through.

After a handful of suicide attempts and trips to the Miami VA psych ward, they diagnosed me with PTSD, major depression, anxiety disorder, and psychotic symptoms. That was when I really learned about PTSD.

Out of the Army and back in Florida, I felt alone and confused and like I was riding the edge. In 2014 I had a PTSD episode, where I had flash backs and hallucinations.  This ended in a violent outburst where I put my family in danger. I was incarcerated, and my wife moved heaven and earth to find me help. After I found out about the Collier County Veterans Treatment Court Program, my wife did everything to get me in.

At first, I was nervous and scared and didn’t know what to expect. I was under house arrest and on state probation, and was not allowed to speak to or see my wife and son. All of this was very devastating.

My treatment requirements consisted of taking medication, going to group meetings, having one-on-one therapy sessions and submitting to random drug tests. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with it, but out of fear of losing my family I decided to pull myself up by my bootstraps and do the best I could in Veterans Court. Group counseling was great. It was the first time I was able to see I was not alone; there were other vets who felt the same way I did. My case manager checked on me all the time and my veteran mentors were a great support system. Once I gave my medication time to work, I saw a change in the level of my anxiety and I felt peaceful.

Going into court to stand in front of the Judge was no easy task. At first, it was very intimidating, but the Judge really likes to talk to you and see how you’re doing. She is very receptive, insightful and fair.

While in Veterans Court, I signed up for school, and earned an Associate’s degree in computer programming. I am currently working on a public administration degree. After I successfully completed Veterans Court, I was able to mentor a veteran going through the program. This was a very humbling and rewarding experience. I realized that there were many other veterans who could benefit from this type of help so I made it my life goal to help veterans any way I can.

The State of Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity, and CareerSource Southwest Florida allowed me the opportunity to pursue that life goal by hiring me as the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialist for Collier County. Now I am able to help veterans of all types achieve self-sufficiency and career goals.

I want to tell veterans who are struggling that they are not alone. You don’t have to hide away from the world. There is help out there for veterans like us. In group counseling you can get a chance to rebuild that brotherhood we all cherished while being in the service.

My message to the community is to be to be patient with us. It’s very difficult transitioning from military to civilian life. The prices we pay are not always seen by the naked eye because they are the invisible wounds of PTSD.  I cannot speak for every veteran, but I know that most veterans who end up in jail because of PTSD don’t do it under their own volition. They need our help and support more than ever. We chose to fight for and defend our country because of our love and commitment to the American people. Even though some of us get lost in the realities of PTSD, our sense of service and duty never goes away. I believe veterans who go to jail because of their PTSD deserve a second chance at life, and this can only be successfully done through the support of the community.

Veterans Treatment Court is a great program, and the best thing to ever happen to me.  Judge Martin and the David Lawrence Center treatment team go out of their way to help veterans receive the treatment and help they need and deserve. I am proof that this program works.

Because of Veterans Court I was able to have all my charges dropped. I now have my family back, I have a college degree, I have a career that I love, I am mentally and emotionally stable, and as a result, I am better able to be a good father and husband.