By Amyra Woods
U.S. Navy veteran and Wayne State student Jimmy Slinker says the high number of veterans who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder does not surprise him, after his own service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operations Endure Freedom in the Middle East.
Slinker, who lives in Ferndale, said that the demanding schedule, rules, combative environment and living conditions contribute to the stresses of military life, which can lead to the disorder.
“When I was in the Persian Gulf” on an aircraft carrier, “the water is 101 degrees. The skin of the ship is that hot after sitting there for months. So, there is no way of getting cold anything. There is no relaxation,” he said. “The flight deck is 125 degrees. You are uncomfortable the entire time.”
According to the American Psychological Association, “Of the 1.7 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 or 20 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”
Just what is this disorder? The Mayo Clinic states, “Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal.” The symptoms start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event.
While the living conditions are tough, Slinker said that the emotional toll sets in after being without loved ones for extended periods.
“I’ve served with a bunch of guys who are having children while they were deployed,” he said. “They didn’t get to see the birth of their child or see their child’s first steps, and missing out on those really crucial months is a big thing for a lot of people.”
Slinker said that the re-socialization process is especially difficult for veterans with PTSD, which he feels fortunate not to have. So he wants to help.
Slinker, 26, said that his motivation to serve the greater community is why he left the military. He was ready to learn more and help in other ways. He thought being a teacher was his calling until he took a sociology class. Then, he changed his major to sociology.
His quest to uplift communities and improve the lives of people began by working in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Wayne State University. His passion stems from understanding the difficulties his fellow troops face.
“A lot of these guys who come from serious combat zones, being shot at all the time,” are digging holes in the desert to sleep in it. “Those guys coming from that discipline and coming back into society and trying to make that transition” is so hard, he said.
As the student-veteran liaison to CAPS, Slinker said, he has been able to help and connect veterans to appropriate resources.
Slinker said numerous sounds, sights, smells, and feelings trigger an array of emotional responses for someone with PTSD. Such responses can be unacceptable for civilian life and make these veterans dangerous, which is why they must receive help.
There are unsatisfied needs in the community not only for veterans, Slinker knows. So he decided to promote change through his own non-profit organization, the For Goodness Sake Foundation.
The foundation partners with Handbags of Hope and the Wayne State University Student Veteran Organization. Slinker said he is looking forward to making more organizational relationships to help the community in any way possible.
He said he knows he cannot fix all of the ills in the world, but it doesn’t hurt to try, to plant the seeds of hope, to listen to those whose voices have yet to be heard.
Slinker said it was the US Navy that started his journey to make a difference.
“While I was there, it sucked; it was terrible. I hated my life and I wanted to get out. But now, in retrospect it was a great decision,” he said. “It took me places and still is taking me places that I never thought I’d go to. I’ve gained some of the best friends I have in my life and it set me up for success.”
Amyra Woods is a guest writer for the Ferndale Patch.