Life after war: Valdosta veteran finds hope in helping others

Life after war: Valdosta veteran finds hope in helping others
Veterans First Light helps veterans connect with services they need, ranging from medical to financial. (Source: WALB)
Veterans First Light helps veterans connect with services they need, ranging from medical to financial. (Source: WALB)

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A veteran is finding his way back to the light after being lost in a very dark place.

It's all thanks to Veterans First Light, which specializes in helping veterans adjust to life after war.

Veterans First Light assist veterans with job placement, counseling and mental/medical health services.

War vet Michael Altepeter credits Veterans First Light in giving him a second chance, after deciding in his mind that living on after war, was a battle already lost.

From the outside looking in, no one would ever know that Michael was full of anything other than laughs and jokes, but he is.

Michael spends a great deal of his time learning how to be happy again after dealing with suicide, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael joined the Army shortly after 9/11 as a combat infantryman.

While serving, many of his friends were killed.

"When you lose somebody it is crippling, the guilt that you can carry around with you," explained Michael.

In 2005, Michael fought in Iraq for six months where he and his men were under 272 direct enemy firefights.

That averages out to more than one firefight a day.

"I felt like it was my duty to sacrifice my life versus them and that's how each and every one of us felt to the left and to the right," said Michael.

With many of his friend's lives lost, the harsh reality of war began to take a toll on Michael's mental health.

"You are deeper bonded by war with your brother and your sister then you can ever be to anybody that you share a house with and share a marriage with," Michael explained.

It was the memories of those lost, that drove Michael to drink and even to the brink of suicide.

"When those anniversaries come around, those days are the hardest and all you want to do is do everything to not remember it, but it's with you every day. It doesn't matter what day it is, but the anniversaries are the hardest. But it's still with you every day, you live it every day, you remember it every day, you see their faces every day," said Michael.

With luck on his side, Bryan Roy, owner of Veterans First Light and friend of Michael's was able to step in and help with counseling and other services.

Michael is now over 30 days sober and helping other vets find the help they need.

"It's just fun watching the progress and seeing that healing take place in his life and seeing him enjoy things again," said Roy.

Michael said his new purpose is to lead other veterans to the light.

"They need those of us who have gone through these same battles that they have," explained Michael. "To let them know that it's okay. That we're here, we're going to find you and we're going to help you."

Veterans First Light has helped 52 veterans face to face since its opening in early September.

If you are a veteran or know one who needs assistance, you can find more information on Veterans First Light's Facebook page.

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