Iraq War vet helping others: 'Best thing I do with veterans is to share my story'

By RAY WESTBROOK | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal | Published: February 1, 2018

LUBBOCK, Texas (Tribune News Service) — After three tours in Iraq for the Army, plus another one as a civilian contractor, Shaun Slaughter took a wrong turn in a really bad neighborhood.

He paid little attention to a sign that should have read "post traumatic stress," and encountered opposition that was too much to handle alone.

“At the depths of my problems, my despair, my situation, I ended up in jail. I didn’t have anything. I came out of jail with pretty much nothing.

“I went through a very ugly divorce, and walked away with not much at all, kind of the clothes I had on. I didn’t have a vehicle or anything like that.”

Now, on the way back, he’s helping to save other veterans afflicted with PTSD, one veteran at a time. And sometimes that’s through all-night sessions with nothing but coffee and talk.

Bart McGonagill, who works with Dave Lewis in the Veterans Resource Coordination Group that also is referred to interchangeably as VetStar, said Slaughter had transitioned out of the service.

“He entered one of the typical spirals that a lot of our veterans get into, and ended up with a police standoff in 2015. We started working with him — he had hit rock bottom.”

Lewis said, “Shaun struggled through multiple combat tours. His story is not unusual — he’s just a shining example of when we have the resources and he makes the commitment.”

According to Lewis, Slaughter is able to speak the same language as other veterans who are struggling.

“One of the most important things is, other veterans that are struggling can look at somebody who has been through the struggles and now is on the other side and doing great. That is probably one of the most powerful tools we have, is for somebody to look him straight in the eye, and say, ‘I’ve been there, brother, and I can help you out.’”

Slaughter enlisted in the Army from Crestview, Fla.

“My last tour ended in 2010. I was stationed in Mosul, which was one of the last strongholds in Iraq. There was still a decent amount of patrols and some fighting going on. My first tour in Iraq was in 2003 during the push, which is where a lot of the major combat was taking place,” he said.

“I was a combat engineer, 12 Bravo, and was assigned to an engineer battalion. Each of all the tours were just long, drawn-out, and it was a long time over there — being away from friends, family, home,” he remembers.

“After one of my buddies was killed, I struggled a lot more. I struggled with adapting to the civilian world, adapting to just the things that would arise with me, and how to function normally day to day.

“I didn’t realize how bad I was struggling and I didn’t realize how much I was hurting inside until I started getting help for it.”

He said, “It’s still something that I deal with and cope with day to day. But I now have the tools and experience to be able to do it in a manner that’s productive.”

Referring to the work he does with other veterans, Slaughter said, “The best thing I do with veterans is to share my story. I listen to them, and I understand where they’re at and what they’ve been through. I think they hear it in my voice when I say, ‘I know what you mean. I can understand that.’”

According to McGonagill, Slaughter is on call by VetStar.

“We call him, and he will drink coffee with them all night long.”

In cases involving an attempted suicide, Slaughter is called to help. “We counted up, and in the last 18 months, he’s responsible for saving six veterans from suicide. He is very calm, and he will say, ‘Let me tell you what’s going to happen, — the police are going to be here in a few minutes, and let me walk you through the booking process, because I’ve been down that road,’” McGonagill said.

Fortunes have turned for Slaughter.

“What’s happened is that he’s getting ready to buy a house, a little fixer-upper. He’s got his little 14-year-old daughter back, won custody of her. And he’s going to close on the house Feb. 26,” McGonagill said.

McGonagill has a word to describe Slaughter:

“He’s our secret weapon. Without him, there would probably be a few folks who wouldn’t be walking around today.”

©2018 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)
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