What would it take to get you fired up for a lifestyle change? What would have to happen to flip your world right again? One man can tell you what made it all worth it.

Aaron Brooker (pictured above), after serving three and a half years in the U.S. Coast Guard, came back to Maine to work as a crewman on a whale watch boat in Bar Harbor. He found himself struggling with substance abuse and swirling at rock bottom. He lived in a Bangor homeless shelter in the Spring of 2001, joined a treatment program, established housing, went back to school and was getting his life on track.

After having re-established his life, he divorced in 2009, which left him back on the streets and away from his young daughters.

“The people here were willing to help me.”

In the Spring of 2012, he found himself at VA Maine Healthcare System – Togus, seeking treatment and help from our Homeless Program. He spent six months in a shelter and then got into a housing program. In 2013, Aaron said to himself, “I have to do something. Otherwise, I’m going to wind up dead.”

“This place was always here when I needed it, I just had to make the decision. When I did, the people here were more than willing to help me,” said Aaron.

He went through a substance abuse treatment program and jumped at the chance to be a Compensated Work Therapy, (CWT) worker. CWT is a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinical vocational rehabilitation program.

“It was an opportunity I had to take or I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” said Aaron.

In 2014, he started working as a dishwasher in the canteen. His supervisor learned he had professional kitchen experience and offered him a chance to cook. A little over two years later, he was offered full-time employment.

“Genuinely glad to see me.”

“Every opportunity I was given, I took a shot at,” Aaron said. “I’m a private person, so I’m at odds with what I do, which is being on display in front of people every day. But I know these people. I still see the same nurses who were the first ones to see me when I got here five years ago. I know them by name, say hi to them when they come through my line and they are genuinely glad to see me.”

Aaron Brooker CWT Worker

Even though Aaron has been cooking since he was seven years old and trained at Eastern Maine Community College in classical French cuisine, he chooses to devote his time right here at Togus.

“My goal is to serve in Togus at some capacity as I consider it a debt of honor,” Aaron said. “No one offered me a handout, but everyone offered me a hand up.”

In a little over five years, Aaron has flipped his life right side up and is now in stable housing, stable employment, and has since remarried.

“I’m going to go back to work and do the same thing for the next however many days. At 4 p.m., I’m going to go home and see my wife and two daughters. Then this Friday, I’m going to leave here and go get my other two daughters, and we are all going to be together for the weekend. That is something I wouldn’t have had five years ago. That is why it’s worth it!”

Shares his story…to save other Veterans

Now, he shares his story, if only to save one Veteran struggling with substances.

“I know where I came from. When things get tough, it’s no longer worth taking the chance of going back; it’s no longer an option for me. I’m no longer using substances to escape an uncomfortable situation. It’s my faith, my trust in the fact that there is something greater than me. Yes, I made the decision to change, but there is no earthly reason I’m still here. There is something more powerful than me that got me here today and I have to acknowledge that.”

Megan Kon Megan Kon is the Public Affairs Officer at the VA Maine Healthcare SystemMegan Kon Megan Kon is the Public Affairs Officer at the VA Maine Healthcare System

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Published on Apr. 25, 2019

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