U.S. Navy Veteran Justin Hysom-Call isn’t letting his bad back keep him from digging himself out of the hole he fell into when he turned to alcohol to mask the pain from an active-duty injury.

It has been a long, slow climb for Justin, whose struggles with alcoholism swallowed much of his youth and vitality. Sobriety, education, human compassion and the sheer will for a reset have placed Justin firmly back on solid ground.

“I had to figure out a way to build a life. It’s been bumpy, but I’m getting there,” said Justin, a 4.0 student in his second semester at Yavapai College.

Justin made his way to community college via the Veterans Administration Medical Center’s alcohol treatment program for veterans. He landed at the Prescott VA following years of unsuccessful attempts to connect with family in California, Texas and Arizona.

A Southern California native, Justin’s mother died when he was 12 and he bounced between the homes of friends or family, finally settling as a teenager with his Navy recruiter older brother. Within a month of graduating from high school, Justin was in boot camp. He thrived in the Navy as an aviation ordinance man. He supervised and trained sailors and saw a great deal of the world. But, six years in, a back injury from a fall and self-medication with alcohol upended his military career.

“This problem with alcohol followed me wherever I went. It caused problems for me wherever I went,” he said, recalling years of couch surfing and poor health. “I finally made a decision I was going to do something about it.”

“I was tired,” Justin said. “I was tired of constantly worrying about where my next beer was coming from. It’s cliché but sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you know which direction is up.”

Justin recently marked one year of sobriety, a triumph he shares with the “godsend” VA. It was at the VA that he learned about the Veterans Upward Bound program

From the VA, Justin connected with the Veterans Upward Bound program at YC and with Student Support Services/Trio. Staff in those offices and the YC Answer Center helped him craft an academic plan, apply for student aid and secure housing.

Justin was all-in as a college student from the start, viewing higher education as a path to self-reliance and continued freedom from alcohol. He worked hard – five hours a day initially to resurrect and hone   his math skills with help from YC instructor Wendy Weiland whom Justin describes as “amazing and brilliant.”

He completed his VUB college prep program at an impressive pace, earning awards, scholarships and high praise from his peers and mentors. “He’s had a brilliant start to his college journey. His is a ‘You Can’ story everyone should hear,” said VUB Coordinator Jenn Zimmerman.

Justin enrolled at YC full time last fall, spending his out-of-class time either in the Computer Commons or the Learning Center. “When I have work to do, I stay on campus,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t own a computer or a desk.

Involvement in student activities also keeps Justin on campus a good part of the school day. He is president of the YC Juggling Club, is a member of the Veterans Club and a certified peer mentor. He plans to apply for admission to the YC College Honors Program and the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. His goal, after earning an associate’s degree in science at YC, is an eventual doctorate. He’s considering environmental engineering en route to a career in ocean cleanup, but is keeping his options wide open. “I know the more I learn, the more I’ll understand,” he said.

Justin does know he wants to continue excelling at YC. “I’m intelligent. But I’m working on being smart, because I need something better in my life.”