MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - Post traumatic stress disorder is common among our veterans and can stem from a variety of different things, including combat and sexual assault.
About 23 percent of female vets have reported sexual assault in the military to the VA. That abuse has left many female vets with PTSD.
The Sawyers family is just like any other. They enjoy spending time together and laughing.
They've bonded over their love of Star Wars, but behind the smiles, Lavinia and her husband are both veterans battling PTSD.
"I didn't want to be in anymore. I just didn't want to be apart of something that treated the women as badly as they did," said Lavinia.
Lavinia joined the Navy in 1999. She was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia as an air traffic controller, from the outside she seemed to have it all.
"I was really excited when I joined. I was happy to go through boot camp. I was excited to go through my first command and be able to go on a ship and basically see the world," said Lavinia.
Lavinia says everything changed in 2001 when a new senior chief came in.
"He would approach us, any female, if he liked them or not and ask them for favors, sexual favors and if we didn't comply to that, he made our life hell. Because of his rank, they did nothing. They wouldn't do anything," said Lavinia. "So, my image of the military was very skewed at that point."
The abuse made her feel hopeless.
"After going and trying to get help, I just felt like that was the last resort, like I just didn't want to be there no more. I didn't want to be around him anymore. I tried to commit suicide twice while I was in," said Lavinia.
But Lavinia had at least one person on her side. She met her now husband, who was there to support her all throughout the way.
"We work together to help each other through the good times and the bad," said Bill.
Bill is also a navy yet. He served in Afghanistan and suffers from his own form of PTSD.
Whether the disorder stems from combat or sexual trauma, he says it needs to be taken seriously.
"I try to be there for her. If she is going through a panic attack, I try and find out why and try to resolve whatever issue that is. Try to reassure and just be there for her. Be the shoulder that she needs or the rock that she needs," said Bill.
Bill was the one who pushed Lavinia to seek help through the VA.
She now goes through counseling. It's been more than 10 years since she's left the military and she hasn't been able to work sense.
"It took about two years before I could go into a crowd of people. I couldn't do it anymore. I was afraid of somebody grabbing me or touching me. It was very uncomfortable for me to be in that situation," said Lavinia.
Today, she still struggles, but it's gotten a lot better. She finds happiness through her family, especially her son.
The family tries to stay busy by giving back to the community to combat the disorder. They've gotten involved with a local group to dress up as Star Wars characters.
"When you see the kid's faces light up when a storm trooper comes around the corner. There is no doubt why we do that," said Bill. When you see kids that are that happy, you can't help but smile and when you smile, you feel better."
The Sawyers family has traveled to local hospitals to visit kids dressed in their Star Wars gear.
They say feeling better takes time, but the most important thing is to not try to handle it all on your own.
"What you are doing is affected everybody else around you. You affect your children, you affect your husband or your wife. If you have PTSD, it affects everybody," said Lavinia.
"You may not even know the true cause of their PTSD until they talk to a professional. Don't wait. If you have any kind of depression issues or any other symptoms of PTSD, by all means, go get help. Go find somebody to talk to," said Bill.