Stories from
Higher Ground

Every day, we get to see people accomplish things they never thought possible. A woman with paraplegia bikes down a mountain. A child with autism forms a lifelong friendship. A military veteran learns how to connect with his wife again. Our stories are powerful, and every one is worth sharing. Here are some of our favorites.


A Purple Heart at Higher Ground:

Justin Patterson


Justin Patterson served active duty in Iraq between 2002-2009. In 2004, Justin took shrapnel through the eye. In 2005, he was shot through the foot. In 2006, he was hit by a suicide bomber. In May 2007, his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by an IED. He took shrapnel to the face and pelvis, was knocked unconscious, and medevaced out. Four months later, his vehicle was hit by a large IED, overturned, and caught fire. Justin was ejected, but his crew members were burned alive. He was knocked unconscious and woke up in Landstuhl, Germany.

He spent the next few years in and out of hospitals for his traumatic brain injury and other combat injuries. He was medically retired 100% P&T (permanent & total) and has continued his healthcare at the VA since. Justin attended the Higher Ground military snow sports program in Sun Valley in 2017. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Elisa, and their son, Maximus. He enjoys the outdoors, metal detecting, and treasure hunting.

He shared his story with us at our 2017 Hero's Journey Gala. Scroll down for his experience, in his own words.


H-h-h-aving a b-b-b-b-brain injury m-m-m-m-m-makes me often st-st-st-st-stutter...and I st-st-st-utter r-r-really w-well.

But more importantly, it’s made me forget a lot of things. I have early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s because of all the tissue being gone. But my wife…I don’t understand how she loves me…I wasn’t always like this until a few years ago when I had another stroke. My speech was very good. But after my recovery I asked her why she loved me and she said, “All men are like parking spots. The only ones left are handicapped or way the heck out there.” I knew right then and there she could put up with my stuff.

The real heroes are the women who put up with us…who put up with us during our bad days.

Everyone handles their PTSD differently…that’s one of the problems we have with brain injury…it’s like being a toddler all the time, you just can’t express yourself. Now I have constant mini-strokes and I’m kind of deteriorating.  My wife has pointed out I’m only going to need one book, one movie, and I’m constantly meeting “new people.”

My name is Justin Patterson; this is not about working here in God’s Great Army. I wasn’t cool enough to be a SEAL…every SEAL gets a book deal. I was injured in Iraq. I was shot. I was blown up. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about an amazing journey I got to take right here in this lovely town. (One of the problems with a brain injury is you get sidetracked and forget where you were going…bear with me).

I had the privilege of…my wife and I…had the privilege of attending a Higher Ground retreat. I want to tell you about Higher Ground, it was an amazing experience. The lucky few that are allowed to attend are truly blessed. I say this because all of us veterans are on a budget, and we’d never be able to attend something like this. And to come through what we did and meet the people we get to meet; it was outstanding.

I have to be honest when I say that Higher Ground was a life-changing experience for me. Through the bonding, through the people I met... I’ve been to a couple of other retreats but none were like this where the staff stays in touch with you and makes an impression on you…and parts of your soul.

I want to give a round of applause to the people of Sun Valley. This is just the greatest place on Earth. This is the way every community should be.

As far as the donors go, you do so much for us. I’m tempted to give you my first born.

I’ll have to be honest with you, when my wife first told me about Higher Ground I was skeptical, thinking this would be another retreat where you have to promise to be someone you’re not. But here, it was awesome. And my wife told me that a Navy SEAL was running the program, I said, “Let’s go meet a super hero.” And I think that’s what you are: my idols.

I was just an electrician in the army. From the moment I touched down here in Sun Valley, I was treated first class. It was the coolest thing. I felt important again. I don’t know if you guys understand what it’s like to lose your self worth when you come out of the military and start being treated like a child because of your injury.

But here, you remember what it’s like to take part in something bigger than yourself again. They gave us awesome tools like mindfulness…I had no idea what that was. But this awesome guy, Dooley, taught me mindfulness and a few other things that you can pick up here. You can get some really good relationship tools to use.

I could go on for days about the staff and volunteers that make this happen. But, I’m on a time limit. What you have done for my wife and I…is kind of like…to be disabled, you can’t do a lot. I’ve got nine doctors…speech therapy, physical therapy…all through the week you get so burned out. Coming here is a relief. Being in the VA, which is an awesome place, four times a week gets old.

After I came to Higher Ground I felt like I was filled with new life, a new breath of fresh air. My wife, who is also my caregiver…, coming through this program allowed me to fall in love with my wife and caregiver all over again.

When you go through treatment like this they say it’s like a roller coaster. The high is like when you’re skiing and having a great time; it’s just a lot of fun. But what is different about this program is the feeling continued. What’s different about this program is that after this program it lit a fire under my ass.

I was putting the carriage before the horse. You’re doing a lot of things, and I’m sure there are more to come. Whatever you guys are doing, don’t change a thing.

In closing…and I don’t know how to drive this home…

I have trouble finding words anyway…

This is an awesome freaking program and if you can find ways to help other vets coming through, I swear to God you’re going to save lives.

You put people in a position to be motivated and reach back for our fellow veterans. I’ve told all my friends this is an awesome program, and they’ve all wanted to come.

And I just want to give one last round of applause to all the heroes who never had a chance to come home. Please keep the round of applause going for my wife.