Special Report: One soldier's struggle with PTSD (Pt.1)

Special Report: One soldier's struggle with PTSD (Pt.1)
Staff Sergeant Billy Caviness
Staff Sergeant Billy Caviness
Staff Sergeant Robert Ham
Staff Sergeant Robert Ham

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They fight for our country, but the price they pay for protecting our freedoms is sometimes their peace of mind.  According to the Army, 5 - 25% of all soldiers who have been deployed to combat zones develop post-traumatic stress disorder.  But Army officials say only 8% of soldiers who were deployed between 2001 and 2011 have been diagnosed.

Studies have reported that perhaps as many as two-thirds of all soldiers suffering from PTSD are not getting any treatment.

One Schofield Barracks' soldier is breaking the silence, and hopefully stigma, of living with PTSD.  Staff Sergeant Billy Caviness is a Purple Heart recipient, who has proudly served his country for 16 years and is now struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.  He shared his story with Army videographer Staff Sergeant Robert Ham in the documentary "Level Black: PTSD and the War at Home".

This is their story behind the story:

SSgt Billy Caviness says he couldn't shake the feeling something horrible was going to happen.

"I knew. I knew that morning when I walked out on the battlefield, on the COP, I knew it was coming and I did what I had to do," described SSgt Caviness.  "Bottom line, I had a job to do."

It was SSgt Caviness' fourth, and ultimately final, tour of duty.

He was on patrol in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan when a mortar attack blew a hole the size of a fist into his right thigh, severely injuring his groin area.

"I was happy-go-lucky, until the day I got wounded. That changed everything," said SSgt Caviness, who has been diagnosed with severe PTSD.

"You have no control over it—your thoughts, your dreams, your nightmares – whatever you might be doing at any given time.  You can be fine one minute, and gone the next," explained SSgt Caviness.

His doctors describe the seriousness of his condition as "Level Black".

"It comes quick.  And you 'aint got no reaction time, you just deal with it. You don't get used to it, you just deal with it," described SSgt Caviness.  "You just cope the best way you can and move on with your day."

Sgt Caviness' struggle with PTSD is not the story Army videographer Staff Sgt Robert Ham intended to tell, but it's one he says he was compelled to.

"This was a guy who had fought for our country and who was suffering , and once  we started to talk to him I realized – there was a new battle, a new fight that he was fighting, and this fight  was inside his house – this struggle with PTSD that he was going through," explained SSgt Ham.  "And I just wanted to tell that story."

The documentary was shot at Schofield Barracks, where SSgt Caviness is stationed with the Warrior Transition Battalion.   SSgt Ham spent more than a year with Caviness, his wife and their kids—all the while his camera capturing the 38-year-old's on-going battle with anxiety, hallucinations, irritability, and insomnia caused by PTSD.

"Sometimes I don't sleep for days, so I'm just up patrolling the house – making sure everything is locked and shut and aint nobody can get in anywhere," said SSgt Caviness.

Since SSgt Ham's documentary was released in January, he says the response it has gotten from the military community has been overwhelming.

"PTSD is varied.  It's varied and it's complex and there's a lot of different – based on people's experiences and what they're going through – so there's not one story that captures what PTSD is, there's thousands of stories.  But one story is able to illuminate it and shed light on it, and I think soldiers are walking away going 'Hmm, that's pretty close' or 'that's exactly what I'm going through,'" explained SSgt Ham, who was just named the 2012 Department of Defense Videographer of the Year.

His documentary "Level Black: PTSD and the War at Home" won first place for Best Feature.  But SSgt Ham says the true reward is the lifelong friendship he forged with a fellow soldier.

"I think the power of storytelling is a very amazing thing – how much it can bring people that have no previous experience together, together," said SSgt Ham.

More than 300,000 Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with PTSD.  SSgt Caviness says he hopes sharing his story may help one of them.

"I'm doing this to help soldiers. And some of you soldiers out there – listen, don't get to where I'm at.  Get help before it starts, and take it from an old Staff Sergeant – get help," said SSgt Caviness.

For more information on post-traumatic stress disorder, go to: www.militaryonesource.mil

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Related LINK:

Special Report: One soldier's struggle with PTSD (Pt.2)

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