As an Army Veteran of over six years with deployments to Iraq, Brandon Thompson tackled life like he conducted himself on the job: emotionless, with his problems tucked away to be dealt with privately. It was a personal mantra that served him well in uniform, but not so much when he honorably separated.

“I tended to push people away including my daughter, my girlfriend and my family because I saw myself in such a negative light,” said Thompson of his life after military service. “I wanted to be alone.”

As problems mounted, Thompson’s emotionless demeanor and aversion to others made him deeply concerned about his relationship with his daughter. He first attempted to find help through a six-week treatment program in Arkansas. In his short amount of time there, Thompson left with an understanding of his feelings, but with no tools to manage his life moving forward.

“I wondered how I can shift my self-destructive behavior into something more positive,” said Thompson. “I’m an alcoholic and I wouldn’t know how to process these feelings so I would drink to help me deal with it. Even going sober through the rehabilitation program, I didn’t have the answers I was seeking, which led me to the Aspire Center. I was ready for it.”

VA’s Aspire Center, located in San Diego, California, is a 40-bed, 30,000 square-foot facility aimed at promoting recovery in Veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center provides temporary housing and comprehensive interdisciplinary care including: psychiatry, psychology, addiction therapy, onsite primary care and nursing support, spirituality, social work services, recreational activities, financial counseling and vocational and occupational therapy for Veterans who need them.

Best candidates recognize the need for a change

“The best candidates for this program are Veterans who recognize the need for a change in their life, who are motivated and clinically ready, sober and abstinent, to put in the work needed to achieve their goals in recovery” said Dr. Lu Le, Medical Director at the Aspire Center.

The program can last from three to six months depending on individual needs. During the first phase of a Veteran’s stay, he or she is individually assessed and a plan is developed specific to the needs for recovery. Based on that plan, Veterans incorporate several daily hours of therapy specific to their individual needs using a multi-disciplinary team committed to a Veteran’s success.

These sessions are mixed with group events that help Veterans grow while bonding with fellow residents. Outside of daily schedules, Veterans will be able to venture out to enjoy recreational therapy opportunities such as surfing, biking and hiking.

Veteran Salma Jackson uses a lathe during woodworking classes at the Aspire Center in San Diego.

Veteran Salma Jackson uses a lathe during woodworking classes at the Aspire Center in San Diego.

During the final discharge phase of the program, Veterans start pursuing vocational and academic goals by venturing into the community to volunteer, interview for jobs, secure housing and take classes at local educational institutions.

“When we start, we ask every Veteran where they want to be when the program concludes,” said Dr. Le. “By offering them a structured environment and staff committed to success from beginning to end, we want to make sure they meet their goals and have a clear way forward when they leave.”

Calls his daughter every morning

It was with concern for the relationship with his daughter that brought Brandon Thompson to the Aspire Center. Now with several months left in the program, Thompson misses and calls her every morning. With treatment and therapy, he understands the value of emotion in his life and it’s given him a way to look outward and focus on the needs of people around him.

“I think about being able to go to my daughter’s events without feelings of anxiety. She just started cross country running. Before, she did competition cheer and dancing and it would be hard for me to go watch those things. It would be hard for me to be there and enjoy myself with all the crowds and closed environment. I had to force myself to put on the appearance of being excited to be there when in reality, I was worried and watching for people acting strangely and looking for exits. Now, I can feel myself getting excited about going to her sports events, and I am enjoying hearing what’s going on with her when I call. I’m getting to a place where I can sit there with her when we talk and be present in the things that matter to her,” he said. “That’s a really great place to be.”

Here’s more information, or if you know someone who would benefit from the Aspire Center.

About the author: Christopher Menzie is a public affairs specialist at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

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Published on Oct. 10, 2017

Estimated reading time is 4.1 min.

Views to date: 541


  1. Ronald Colby October 20, 2017 at 11:55 am

    The #1 problem with the ASPIRE Center is the forced and mandatory “Jesus Saves” and 12-Step religious AA/NA cult shoved down the veteran’s throat; if a veteran refuses to convert to that nonsense they are discriminated against, hated, and thrown out to the streets.

  2. Eddie Williams October 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    I got a gos discharged from the Marine Corps now I have leukemia contaminated water at Camp Lejeune 1974 75 76 77 and I need help getting my discharge upgraded

  3. Susan K Fruscella October 15, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    I would like to know how to recognize a veteran for a day

  4. Drew October 13, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Being over 50 and disabled, every morning is a new experience in pain and wonder what comes next. Having prevention of new pain or at least better physical health would be the best investment to all veterans. More therapeutic services would reduce the need for many future doctor visits and give the VET a better state of mind. I know just helping older brothers and sisters would help my PTSD and well being right now.

  5. Arnold Cabral October 13, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Who reads this please call your Senators and Representative asked them to contact the Veteran Affairs Committee passed a New Disabled Veteran Benefit Law who is 100 percent service connected definitely need to get G4 implants from a Cosmetic Dentistry Dentist because their is absolutely not one works at a Veteran Medical Center plus they haven’t even one has a contract with Veteran Affairs Admistation but their is Private Clinics knows how to put G4 implants but unfortunate they want all the money up front my firm belief as a Concerned Veteran the money should come from the Federal Government so the Disabled Veterans collecting 100 percent service connected get the G4 implants for free. ..Semper Fi

  6. Roger Petersen October 13, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I believe every veteran could benefit from a regular fitness and wellness program sponsored by their local VAMC and carried out at a community based fitness center such as the YMCAs. I have been trying for over six months to introduce such a program at the McGuire VAMC and the YMCA located in Richmond, VA. Both of these organizations seem uninterested in working together.
    There is a written understanding (MOU) between these organizations on the national level. I wonder if any local VAMC have introduced a wellness and fitness progam? If so where ?

    • Arnold Cabral October 13, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Roger Peterson can Friend me on Facebook my name is Arnold Cabrall I am Lean Mean Machine Marine. .Thanks Semper Fi

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