Veterans struggling with addiction cultivate new lives on DV Farm
GILSUM, N.H. (NEWS CENTER) — When many veterans return home from serving their country, they are often unprepared for another battle they face after retiring from the military. Tens of thousands end up on the streets, and many struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.
But there's a new long-term rehab program in rural New Hampshire that is giving veterans a chance to cultivate a new life. They work and live together on a farm where they also receive counseling, animal therapy, and little tough love.
DV Farm is less than a year old and was started by a former Army Ranger. Mike Rivers says he was a homeless addict when he started working with other vets at another farm in rural New Hampshire. It turned his life around and now he is trying to help other veterans break the cycle — but there's one key condition: the vets have to have failed at rehab in the past.
David Le Blanc and Timothy Jackson have a lot of work to do every day — and that's an understatement.
They dig ditches and clear trees of this 50-acre farm near the Vermont border, one at a time. Working the land is part of a unique program aimed at helping veterans struggling homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction. DV Farm is operated by veterans for veterans and provides a sober stable environment to help them be successful in civilian life. Le Blanc who served in the Air Force spent years on the streets, in and out of traditional rehab programs. Nothing worked until he got to the "farm"
"The responsibilities placed upon us has helped keep me busy and not worry too much about going out and getting that next drink," David Le Blanc said.
"If they take care of their daily responsibilities our job is to help them put their broken pieces of the lives back together," said Mike Rivers
Rivers is former Army Ranger and served during the first Iraq War. Like thousands of other vets, he struggled after he got out the military. He turned to drugs and alcohol and was homeless for years. Rivers who has PTSD also tried to get clean at the VA. He finally broke the cycle after spending time at a first of its kind veteran run farm in rural New Hampshire. It inspired him to launch DV Farm. It's centered around teaching veterans to be functional again but there is one condition: they have to have failed a traditional rehab program first.
When they get here Rivers gives the vets a sense of purpose similar to what they experienced in the military.
The veterans operate the farm seven days a week. The live together in this farm house. Up at 7 a.m., someone cooks the meals, another vet plans the chores and who is going to care for the animals. They grow and bond together and learn a routine that will them in the real world, but there is also peer pressure.
Jackson who served in the Navy says he had been unhappy since he retired from the military. He learned about the DV farm after he showed up for another stint of rehab at the VA. He says having another veteran who has gone through what he has run the farm -- makes a big difference.
Every week, Rivers takes veterans to the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont for medical care. They are required to attend group meetings for substance abuse. They also participate in horseback riding therapy at a neighboring farm. The goal is to have horses at DV farm in the future. But Rivers says the program is not for everyone.
Unlike a traditional program, veterans are given a chance to go the VA to get clean again. He says when they do 99 percent of the veterans come back to the farm again.
Rivers runs the program with his wife, a veteran who served in the second Iraq war. They support the program from the website "Dysfunctional Veterans" and the Facebook page has more than a million followers.
Besides showcasing dark military humor and selling tee-shirts and other items it provides resources and trained staff to help veterans struggling with addiction, PTSD and other issues. Veterans say being part of the "family" on the farm helps break the ice.
Le Blanc in the meantime is continuing to learn more skills from the farmhands who are also veterans. He hopes he'll have the tools to get on the right path when he leaves the farm later this summer.
If you would like more information you can log on to DVFarm.org.