University of North Texas student Rusty Carter struggled with alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and a failing marriage, a few months after he was honorably discharged from the Army. He knew that something needed to change in his life after a failed suicide attempt in June 2013.
“I hated who I was,” he says. “I spent years hiding behind a bottle in a feeble attempt to suppress my thoughts and drink my pain away. I created a façade to shield others from the truth, and worst of all, I lied to myself.”
Four years later, he graduated with honors from the University of North Texas to serve those who face some of the same issues as he did. With his bachelor’s degree in social work, he plans to become a mental health counselor to fellow veterans. Rusty also plans to earn a master of social work degree, to prepare for doing research on adjustments veterans face when they leave the military
Rusty says he started to turn his life around after enrolling at Collin College in Plano. He became friends with an employee at the college’s Veterans’ Resource Center, and soon started working at the center as a veterans’ liaison.
The work resulted in Rusty changing his goal of transferring to Texas A&M University to study petroleum engineering, to transferring to UNT.
“I was a motorcycle technician in Dallas when I enrolled at Collin College and had done construction work and work as a security guard. I only enrolled because a friend told me I could get a very well-paying job in his company if I became a petroleum engineer. But working with other veterans gave me a sense of belonging,” Rusty says. “Serving these men and women brought a sense of joy back into my life that I had been missing. Knowing that they too were lost and I was able, whether in a small or large way, to assist them and point them in the right direction felt good.”
Rusty says his biggest personal changes happened about in spring 2015, nine months after he began working at the Veterans’ Resource Center. He went through a divorce but also achieved sobriety “after two years of drinking more than two and a half gallons of liquor a week.”
That May, he received his associate’s degree from Collin College. He entered UNT the following August.
“I began surrounding myself with positive individuals and stopped dwelling on my shortcomings,” he says.
Rusty has been working as the veteran services coordinator with Stay the Course, a nonprofit organization in Fort Worth that serves veterans, since last February. He received the Student of the Year Award for 2016 from the National Association of Social Workers Texoma Branch and graduated from UNT in December 2017 with honors.