Rebuilding his Life

Thomas, an Army Veteran, is striving to live a life of paying it forward. “I just want to spend the rest of my days helping people and bringing them joy.” However, to understand how he got here, you have to know his story.

Thomas was born into a military family. He had a happy childhood and excelled at sports and school. When Thomas was 16 years old, his parents divorced, and he quickly assumed the role as “the man of the house.” Even though he was the youngest of ten children, he took on the responsibility of helping his mother take care of the household. During that time, he worked a series of odd jobs while still in school, but with such a large family making ends meet remained a struggle.

“I was seeking something with a firmer foundation. I needed something stable to help support my family. That’s when I saw an advertisement about joining the military. I remember the exact date I enlisted, December 6, 1978.”

Thomas jumped into the role of solider feet first and quickly became squad leader and then a platoon leader. “I loved being in the Army. That first year, I didn’t even go home for Christmas.” He would later regret that decision when one day after training, he returned to find a note on his door.

“It said my mother was sick. I didn’t know how sick, but I traveled all night on a Greyhound bus to see her.” Thomas did not make it home in time. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her. That was a turning point for me. I look back and realize my grief was so deep, it was hard for me to define it. I was a mama’s boy and without warning, suddenly she was gone.”

Thomas eventually went back to the base, but his passion for military work had dissipated. With the support of his sergeant, he was granted an honorable discharge from the Army.

The next few years, Thomas’s life began to unravel. He jumped into an unhealthy marriage and began experimenting with drugs. Thomas became an addict and was stuck in a downward spiral of addiction.

“I was so vulnerable and depressed during that time. It just became a repetitive cycle of waking up and doing drugs every day. I remember the last time I was high. I woke up so depressed and sad. At that time, I thought about killing myself.”

When Thomas confided these thoughts to a long-time neighbor and family friend, who was also a veteran in recovery, he suggested Thomas seek help at his local Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). “That day, I walked to the VA. I stopped at a church and prayed. When I got to the VA, I dropped to my knees and told them I needed help.”

It was at the VA hospital that Thomas began finding the help he needed. He started attending addiction recovery classes and talking about his trauma. During this time, Thomas also had his first experience with Volunteers of America as a client in the Veteran Resource Center. Thomas continued to work on rebuilding his life, finding work in the domiciliary mailroom and permanent housing. For the next 12 years, Thomas lived independently and drug-free.

However, there were still storms to weather. “I was working seasonal jobs through temporary agencies. It was hard to make ends meet.” Thomas began drinking again, and it started affecting his jobs. “It was hard to keep a job when I was waking up hungover and not showing up at work.”

“I kept making promises to God. I made so many promises,” Thomas reflects. “I would tell God if you do this for me, I will stop drinking. I kept letting Him down. I kept letting myself down. But, if you think God isn’t real, you’re wrong. Every time I asked God for something, He showed up and still does.”

For Thomas, he believes his faith led him to Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana. Through his veteran caseworker, Thomas was connected to Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana’s Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP) who assisted him in finding work.

“My caseworker really cared about me. I was treated like a person, and it made me want to strive to better my situation. He asked me questions about my work history, what I liked (and wanted) to do. That was when I mentioned I really loved driving.”

Soon after, Thomas was recommended for a job as a driver for Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana’s thrift enterprise. “Once I got the job, they got me everything I needed including new work clothes, boots, and books.” Thomas still has this job today.

“Driving and collecting the donations is so uplifting for me. I see the people who donate their things, how happy it makes them to know they are helping, and it makes me feel so good. It makes me happy to know I am uplifting other people.”

“I have a wall in my house. I call it my wall of fame. It reminds me how well I was doing before I was introduced to drugs and alcohol. I was just an ordinary guy striving for success.” And Thomas is striving for that, one day at a time.

Thomas looks back on his life with a grateful heart. 

“Sometimes, I wake up overwhelmed with joy and happiness. I have had a great life, but I know the best is yet to come."

I want to help Thomas give hope.