HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Staff Sergeant Billy Caviness died in combat on May 1, 2011.
"I was. It was peaceful. I didn't want to come back, and if I had a choice I'd have never came back," described SSgt Caviness. "I know that's bad to say, but that's just the way that I feel. "
SSgt Caviness was on deployment in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded just six feet in front of him. His injuries earned him a Purple Heart but cost him the vision in his left eye, the ability to walk without a cane, and a fellow soldier – whose face he will never forget.
The price Sgt Caviness has paid for another chance at life is severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He's not alone. According to the National Center for PTSD, as many as an estimated 20 out of 100 soldiers who return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"If it wasn't for my wife and my kids, I wouldn't be here. You just can't wake up one day, or stay up for three or four days and say, 'Hey, I give up.' It don't work like that you gotta keep moving on, move forward and do the best you can – and that's been pretty rough the last two years but I'm still here," said SSgt Caviness.
Tina Caviness has stood by her husband through four combat tours.
"There's always a change. They're never the same when they come back," explained Caviness.
As a National Guard Sergeant herself, she knew her husband would have difficulty adjusting – especially after surviving such serious injuries.
But Tina says she wasn't prepared for how different the soldier who came back from Afghanistan would be from the man she had fallen in love with almost 9 years ago.
"I didn't get why he couldn't just let go of what happened over there and just let it go when we got here," said Caviness.
What Tina didn't know was that doctors had mended her husband's open wounds, but no one had addressed his invisible injuries – the ones preventing him from being in public without experiencing anxiety or fear… the ones causing him to black out and hallucinate, making it impossible for her to feel safe leaving the kids with their father. His PTSD is so severe they call it "Level Black".
"It was very scary because I knew in my heart, it was that bad," said Caviness. "Hearing that from the doctors made it more real for me – meaning he needed more treatment than we could ever imagine he needed, and I needed treatment and he needed treatment to get through that."
For the past two years, SSgt Caviness has been getting treated for PTSD at Schofield Barracks. In addition to regular check-ups with his doctors – Sgt Caviness also takes medication daily, and often attends a support group with soldiers who share similar experiences.
"When you're in treatment with other soldiers who've been severely wounded or who've come close to death, they understand. They've been there, done that and you don't have to say something more than once. You can say it one time and that's it," described SSgt Caviness.
SSgt Caviness admits everyday is challenge.
"PTSD is a nightmare. You don't get used to it, you just deal with it. Bottom line," described SSgt Caviness, but he says the care he has gotten from the Army and his Warrior Transition Battalion is making a huge difference.
"They've supported me a hundred percent of the way. Every time I've had an issue – the doctors, and my chain of command have taken care of me and I've had no problems," explained SSgt Caviness.
Tina says the treatment is saving her family.
"If you would've asked me a year and a half ago, 'Would we be together to this day?' and I would've said no at that time, I would've said, 'There's no way. There's no way I could've gone through this,'" described Caviness. "If it wasn't for the treatment, and him actually going through it – I don't think there would've been a chance for us ever surviving."
Let alone expanding, but that's exactly what they've done. Despite doctors telling Sgt Caviness his injuries would likely prevent him from ever having another child, little Annabella was born December 4, 2012.
"It was just a miracle," Caviness said. "This is the first birth he was home for – the last two, he was deployed. I think that brings him down to reality and it helps him handle it with his PTSD, and I think that's a good treatment in itself. He's able to enjoy life now with her here."
SSgt Caviness says even though he doesn't think his PTSD will ever go away, he's lucky if he gets to grow old still learning to cope with it.
"Friends and people that I cared about that got hurt or wounded – that's always gonna be there. That's never gonna leave – and that's a good thing if you ask me, because you should never forget. You never forget the fallen, you never forget the injured or the combat wounded – never," said SSgt Caviness.
SSgt Caviness will be medically discharged from the Army with full benefits. He hopes to enjoy an early retirement in New York, where he plans to continue his PTSD treatment and devote his time to being a full-time father and husband.
For more information on post-traumatic stress disorder, go to: www.militaryonesource.mil