President Theodore Roosevelt once said “a man who is good enough to shed blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.” Yet, with the bureaucracy and mismanagement of the VA, we see a countless number of men and women coming home from service to find themselves lost, broke, and often without a home. Knowing this first hand, Mike Rivers, a veteran who has been through it all, has created a place where homeless vets can go to live, heal, and thrive. From homelessness to alcoholism, from drug abuse to prison time, Rivers knows first hand just how difficult the problems of life after the military can be and has taken it upon himself to be a part of the solution.
From the time he was born, Rivers was immersed in the military. With his father in the infantry, Rivers grew up as an Army brat who moved all over, living in places such as Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, Fort Dix, and Germany. Though he swore he’d never go into the military himself, when Rivers graduated high school he found himself not only in the military, but in the same Army division and company as his father.
Rivers enjoyed being with his dad, but admitted it wasn’t always so easy. His fellow soldiers gave him a hard time when something would go his way, saying he had advantage being with his father. However, when things didn’t work out so well, he also felt the repercussions. “When I got busted I got busted extra hard,” he said. “Something that was normally a slap on the wrist, I got reamed.”
After two years of enduring good times and bad in the infantry, he parted ways with his father and went on to serve another six years. From Mechanized to Infantry to Rangers, he served proudly, even fighting in the Gulf War in 1990, just two weeks after the U.S. invaded. In the final years of his service Rivers’ began to slip.
“I’m not pointing fingers or anything, but the unit I was in just didn’t give a shit,” he said. “I obviously have PTSD, I obviously had drinking problems, and readjustment problems. I kept shooting myself in the foot. I got busted, I got busted again. My unit didn’t like me.”
Rivers’ got an honorable discharge in 1992. That’s when the real trouble began.
“A lot of young vets think that their life is over when they get out of the military,” Rivers’ explained. “They get in trouble, they get a DUI, and they think their life is over. Even after that one time they get arrested, they think their life is over. Or they go to jail and think their life is over. God forbid they go to prison they think their life is over. I’ve done all this.”
“I was kind of suicidal,” he continued. “I didn’t care if I lived or died. I just kept making my situation worse.”
He would get jobs, but nothing that could make a real living. He took gigs such as a DJ, window washer, courier, bus driver, but nothing ever stuck. Hopeless, he tried drugs, got probation, got jail time, more jail time, got prison time, got more prison time, and then he ended up homeless.
“Last place I lived was in a subway tunnel a few years ago in Boston,” Rivers said, but “being a veteran you never quit.”
Back in 2007 there was a VA program that changed him. Rivers found himself in a program with a handful of vets on a big farm with a bunch of animals in the middle of nowhere. Though he wasn’t particularly fond of the staff, he found that the type of help he was getting in that style of program was beneficial. He began being able to help other vets through circumstances he had already gone through and realized that the more he gave away, the more that came back to him. The program was the inspiration for what was to come.
Despite having never touched a computer for 30 years, his then girlfriend and now wife, Martha, was able to show him the ropes of the internet enough to launch a Facebook page. Loading up the page with dark and sarcastic military humor, the page soon started gaining traction and Dysfunctional Veterans was born.
Though the name says otherwise, Rivers insists the family of vets that have joined his page aren’t really dysfunctional. “We’re perfectly normal,” he said. “it’s society that’s crazy.”
After two or three years of the page gaining fans, Rivers took Dysfunctional Veterans to a whole new level, selling t-shirts which started to bring in a major income. Soon, Rivers was able to get off of social security, pay for his first apartment, and begin saving to start his own business.
“Thats when I said we’ll be able to start our own farm here soon,” he said. “And I did,” he continued. “Within 2 years I saved enough money for a down payment to buy this land and start the program.”
Now, after years of roadblocks, Rivers and his team have officially opened DV Farm.
“The program is specifically for homeless vets with drug and alcohol history,” Rivers explained.
While the VA has programs for homeless vets struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, the programs they provide can end up leaving a lot of former military members needing more help than they’re able to offer.
“But the one thing that’s hard, and it’s something similar that I went through for years, was filling the voids for vets that a 30-day program isn’t going to work. they need long term rehabilitation.”
“We’re looking to fill the void that the VA is missing,” said Rivers.
Rivers explained that a lot of the VA programs don’t take into account a lot of truths that come with veterans homelessness. When vets relapse, the program kicks them out and makes them feel worthless.
“I don’t want them to feel that way,” Rivers said.“Listen we’re committed, we’re family, you’re here, you fucked up, we’re gonna beat the shit out of you.”
“We’re gonna address why you’re relapsing,” he assured.
Now, the multi-acre farm is set to house four vets on the property. So far six Veterans have come through the program, ranging from a 6 months stay to several weeks. When the barn in progress is finished, Rivers plans on bringing their horse that they keep at a different stable onto the property, as well as a variety of other animals. As Rivers and his team keep building the farm, they plan to set up Veteran aid programs that will be run and maintained by the homeless Vets that reside on the complex. The vets living on the property will be able to work hard, stay clean, and give back to other vets less fortunate than them, because as Rivers acknowledged, that’s what saved him.
The farm is run on donations as well as profits made from the DV Facebook page and which runs a radio show Saturday Nights at 9 o’clock Eastern. If you would like to donate to help Rivers and the Dysfunctional Veterans, you can do so here. Rivers says money donations are what the farm needs most, and each dollar can go a long way to help the cause and get the homeless vets the assistance they need.