Family Is Everything
Dustin was born and raised in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. “We had 10 acres of land;my aunt, uncle and two cousins lived next door on the same property. I had a great childhood traveling the US attending dog shows with my parents and younger brother.”
Dustin had traumatic events in his life before the military and during the transition. “The day I got my driver's license at 16, I wanted to take my uncle next door, who was in the final stages of ALS, for a car ride. My family wanted him fed before I could take him. This turned out to be his final meal—he aspirated and died soon after.”
“Also, at the same time my uncle was suffering from ALS, my mom was a nurse and injured her back while pushing a patient’s bed. She became addicted to painkillers—even though she never acted like an addict. I’m currently in the process of reconnectingwith her.”
Dustin joined the military at 18, missing his high school graduation ceremony. “I joined the military because I wanted to do something more than about myself and for my country. My dad had been a combat vet in Viet Nam. I had wanted to hear about his experiences—which he never talked about. Sadly, he died from Agent Orange-related non-Hodgkins lymphoma when I was 23.”
After his discharge back in Ohio he had various jobs, tried to go back to school, but they didn’t work out: “I probably drank too much and did drugs during this time. I felt a little lost.”
In 2010 he moved to California to take care of his 82-year-old great uncle—a Korean war vet— who was dying from cancer. He died six months later. His uncle’s last wish was for Dustin to care for his wife. He did for three years until things weren’t going well living with her. After leaving his mother a frantic phone message, he was admitted to the hospital with suicidal thoughts. “I felt it happened because I wasn't living for myself.” A few months after he received help, his aunt kicked him out: he lost everything and became homeless on the streets for a week.
While living with his great aunt, he’d been working at a major airline that was a long commute from Hollywood to the job in Long Beach. He moved to Long Beach to be closer to his job. “The day after I moved, I overslept and was laid off. I then got a job selling train vacation packages and moved closer to the Huntington Beach office, working there for 1½ years. When our west coast sales numbers started slipping, an east coast rep was brought in to boost sales and he became my supervisor. He and I became friends. One evening at Christmas time he invited me out. After encouraging me to drink too much, he sexually assaulted me. My work performance slipped—I couldn’t tell the big boss about the assault—and I was laid off.”
His life began to spiral down. After the assault, he saw a therapist, but the drugs prescribed made his symptoms worse. “The VA told me I didn’t qualify for medical benefits. Flash forward to 2016—with no job and I again became homeless—this time for six months. I went to the VA and demanded benefits—they apologized and said I qualified for 100% benefits.”
“I moved into a VA transitional housing facility: my mind was not right, I was taking 30 pills a day and they weren’t working. I wasn’t connecting with people like I used to. MVP members/trainers Denver Morris and AJ Perez came to the shelter to talk about the benefits of sharing transition experiences with other veterans and retired professional athletes. I knew I needed something but I didn’t know what.”
Since joining MVP Dustin was part of a volunteer group that went to Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017, he found ‘a beautiful’ one-bedroom subsidized apartment in Sherman Oaks”, and received an acting scholarship at the Anthony Gilardi Acting School, and just started a new part-time job at Warner Brothers Studio tour department.
“Because of everything I've been doing, I was able to get off all the medications and for the first time in years, I feel like myself. MVP gave me a family and I’m smiling again.”