Dunno... Cochrane there reminds me a lot about a certain acquaintance of mine who definitely counts as an inventor and a rocket scientist. He's not that
fallen on hard times, but I could see it happen in theory.
Cochrane need not have invented anything for, what, the last ten years? His big project would have been on back burner for about that length of time if the onset of WWIII cut off his supply of titanium and whatnot. That's plenty of time for a man to change - enough that when pressed back to duty, he wouldn't even really know how to proceed. Another reason for him to run off to the forest for a quick flask or two of encouragement...