Counselor draws on personal experience

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A Portrait of Brandon Spangler, a social worker with the Kalispell Vet Center on Thursday. Spangler became a counselor after his own experiences with the United States Marine Corps. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Brandon Spangler’s path to working as a counselor at the Flathead Vet Center was not an easy one, but it does make him uniquely qualified for his work in helping veterans.

Spangler, who is originally from Northeast Oregon, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998 when he was 18. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, Spangler was in the Middle East, serving on four different ships stationed in Pakistan and East Timur.

Spangler worked on the hydraulic systems for Marine aircraft.

“The good part of it was the camaraderie,” Spangler said. “Being in the service in wartime, you get very close with everyone. The bad side of it is many of us felt like there was a lack of purpose.

“You have a lot of friends dying and without a purpose, it makes it difficult. I lost my best friend over there,” he said.

When Spangler’s time in the Marines ended in 2003, he tried to go to college, but he said his anger and feelings about what he experienced resulted in him flunking out.

“I ended up moving around, doing odd jobs before I went to work with a contractor, and that was a good job,” Spangler said.

His first child, a boy, was born in 2008, but after that Spangler was in a traffic accident and suffered injuries that led to him becoming addicted to prescription pain killers, followed by illicit drug use.

“I was having pretty frequent and consistent thoughts of suicide,” Spangler said. “In 2013, it was getting to the point where I was going to end the deal or get some help.”

But Spangler still had close family friends that urged him to get help.

Sept. 13, 2013, he checked into an in-patient treatment facility in Walla Walla, Washington, and he said he’s been sober ever since that day, a little more than five years ago.

“I was there for six weeks and I threw myself into therapy, self-care and coping. I learned about family systems and addiction,” Spangler said.

While in treatment, Spangler said his social worker, Andy Hall, really made a connection.

“He inspired me and I had one of those aha moments and I knew what I wanted to do,” Spangler said.

Spangler successfully completed his rehab and enrolled in Walla Walla Community College, where he got an associate degree. From there, he earned a degree in social work from Walla Walla University.

He worked at the veterans center there while he earned his master’s degree in social work.

“I knew I was in the right spot then,” Spangler said.

Spangler said people stepped up for him to help him find work at the Vet Center in Kalispell, which opened in 2010. He works to help veterans return to every day life.

“The center here is known as one of the best in the country,” Spangler said. “It is my dream job. I believe in vet centers to my core.”

Spangler credited Dr. Jeffrey Heider, who is the Kalispell Vet Center’s team leader, for the reputation it enjoys.

“Dr. Heider has been an extraordinary mentor to the veterans’ community,” Spangler said. “He has been working with veterans for more than 30 years. He is why this center exists.”

Spangler said he does reflect at times about where life has taken him.

“I have a lot of gratitude for my friends and family and being able to do what I love to do with a great team of people,” Spangler said. “Staying connected with veterans helps me stay grounded. I have a lot of freedom and autonomy here in what I can do.

“I’m proud that the vets who come here say ‘this is my vet center.’ I really believe deeply in what I’m doing here and I know it’s being done right.”

The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Also, Vet Centers provide services after normal work hours and/or on weekends.

For assistance after hours, weekends, and holidays call 1-877-927-8387.

For more information about the Vet Center, call Outreach Technician Larry Cannon at 257-7308 or go to

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or

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