The director of a non-profit organization that helps veterans transition from service to civilian life spoke to the Naval Support Activity Philadelphia workforce during the annual Veterans Day program Nov. 8.
Heather Sliwinski, the Honor and Courage program director, spoke about what her organization does and related some of her experiences supporting wounded warfighters.
“A lot of our veterans that are coming home from the war on terror have post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s difficult for these veterans to ask for help. They’re not used to that. They’re used to helping other people,” Sliwinski said.
The Honor and Courage program provides financial, emotional and spiritual assistance to veterans. It also connects newly returned wounded veterans with those who have progressed in their recovery and transition to civilian life.
“When you’re deployed, you’re a team. When you come home, and you’re trying to acclimate back to civilian life, that team starts to disintegrate and it’s really difficult for some of them to acclimate without their team members around,” Sliwinski said. “Our goal is to give them a support team around them again.”
As part of the transition process, the organization sponsored a trip in August for veterans to travel to Hawaii and compete in an outrigger canoe race.
“It was awesome to see these guys, who had never met each other before, come together as a team,” Sliwinski said. “They all headed out into the water on their outriggers and it was amazing to see.”
The canoe and the paddles were modified with prosthetics for the amputees, allowing them to use the paddles, Sliwinski said.
During one of their practice runs before the race, they stopped paddling and stared down into the water. When they returned, Sliwinski asked them why they stopped.
“They said that there was a sea turtle that was swimming right next to their outrigger and the turtle was also an amputee,” Sliwinski said. “So it was if the sea turtle had been guiding them on the whole way.”
Experiences in a combat zone can have a deep and lasting impact on those returning home, said Alain Thevenot, a business process analyst with DLA Troop Support and a veteran who also worked in Afghanistan for nearly two years as a contractor.
“When you return from overseas from Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever, there’s an adjustment period,” Thevenot said. “It took me months to adjust back to normal.”
“I don’t know how you educate a non-military person about that,” Thevenot said. “There are some things that you witness and some things that you experience. And then you come back, you have a greater appreciation for what we have here.”
The presentation was effective in portraying some of the struggles veterans have when they return home, Thevenot said. He hopes that the audience gained insight into that world.
“Try to understand what they went through and try to understand them,” Thevenot said.
The Philadelphia Compound Veterans Committee organized the event.