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Local veteran finds new mission after war

When veterans come home, they must first deal with the physical and mental injuries that war leaves behind. Brett Hightower has worked through both.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When our veterans come home from serving their country, they often come back with injuries. 

Some are physical.

“I was critically burned over 35% of my body with white phosphorus,” said Vietnam veteran David Dentinger.

Some are harder to see.

“A lot of veterans don’t have the physical injuries, but they have the mental ones,” said Marine Corps veteran Sam Deeds.

The transition back to civilian life is tough. Trying to navigate the healthcare system, process traumatic experiences, and heal physically at the same time makes that journey even harder.

Brett Hightower has walked the streets of Warren County for almost a year as its sheriff. He has spent years in law enforcement in southern Kentucky, but that barely scratches the surface of his service to the community.

Credit: Brett Hightower

Hightower is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard, serving for nearly 22 years. He was deployed three times: first in Operation Desert Storm, then to Bosnia, and Afghanistan.

“My second daughter was a newborn, literally, she was three weeks old when I left. I came home, she was a year old…You miss a year of their life,” he said.

In 2008, Hightower was 10 days away from coming home to his family when he was severely injured.

“I took a bullet fragment that went through my jaw and into my neck.” The hit fractured his jaw and severely damaged two major arteries. 

Credit: Brett Hightower

He was lucky he survived. But he had a long road ahead.

“It just changed everything,” he said. Hightower had to have two reconstructive surgeries on his jaw and spent weeks in a hospital bed. 

Still, he’s one of the lucky ones - because he’s still here. The same can’t be said for some of the friends he served alongside.

“He did it right outside the tent…I was sleeping and then one of the guys heard the gunshot and then went out there and we found him,” he said.

“Everybody handles stress differently and he committed suicide. He was a great soldier.”

Credit: Getty Images

Hightower's friend is not alone. Between 2008 and 2017, 2,850 active duty service members took their own lives. During that same time period, we lost 61,507 veterans to suicide.

RELATED: Where can Kentucky and Indiana veterans get help?

Hightower is far from finished when it comes to serving his community.

“I think we all have a lot still to give,” he said. “Even if you come back and you’re injured, you’ve got to find your new mission and move forward.”

If you need to talk to someone, you can call the VA Crisis Hotline at any time. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. 

Click here for additional resources for veterans.

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