Interview with Billy and Marie Fraas
How did you get connected with the documentary?
BILLY FRAAS In March, I got a phone call from one of my doctors here at Fort Bliss. He told me what the project would be about and I thought it was interesting. I wanted to get the story out and let people know what's going on, that even though I'm not there, the war is still happening in my head.
Can you describe what it is you feel during an episode? Is it anxiety? Anger?
BILLY FRAAS It depends on the situation. In Wal-Mart it was an anxiety, agoraphobia. I do remember one time getting angry. We were at the car dealership and getting the runaround so I just went ballistic at the people there. Most times now, it's anxiety based.
How do you calm yourself out of it?
BILLY FRAAS I have a service dog -- her name is Chili. She helps me get through those tough times. She knows when I'm not doing so well, and will put her head on my lap and ask to be petted to take my mind off of things. I take her to all my appointments, to Wal-Mart; she goes everywhere.
Does the military do anything to help soldiers readjust to civilian life?
BILLY FRAAS When we come back there is a seven-day long period of readjustment and some classes. It’s a pain in the ass really, because all they're doing is keeping you from your family. That's what most soldiers think: Let's get this over with. I know I'm guilty of it, and hundreds of thousands are guilty of it of not saying anything at that time because you don't want to be there -- you want to be home with your family.
"If you see a soldier duck and cover. Just help him. We did our job, we fought for this country now we want someone to fight for us."
What kind of treatment have you received?
BILLY FRAAS The treatment I've had has been sporadic until recently. I did the seven months at an R&R center -- massage therapy, group therapy, one-on-one work. And I spent another seven months at an inpatient program for traumatic brain injury after a two-year wait to get diagnosed properly. They told me it was just PTSD. Finally we pushed the issue -- I can't drive, I get dizzy, I fall down, I knew something was wrong.
So the burden is on you to ask for help.
BILLY FRAAS If you’ve been told you're fine, that’s all some soldiers will do. That's why the suicide rate is so dang high. We're supposed to trust these doctors. I actually had one doctor who told me I was doctor shopping … so I went to another doctor.
A lot of young soldiers don't know what to do. They're 20 years old and away from home for the first time. Most of them never had any issues. My wife noticed the change more than I did. I thought I could handle it and take care of it. I was wrong -- way wrong.
Marie, how did you know?
MARIE FRAAS When he first came back, it wasn't as clear as when he went back for the third time. I contacted his old first sergeant -- we still keep in touch. I didn't know what to do. I could tell something was wrong and it took my talking to him to see that Billy needed help. He would get into fights over there, and Billy never gets into fights. His whole attitude was really crappy. I could tell just by his tone he was not the same. I contacted his captain in Iraq and they finally listened and sent him home.
Did Billy agree there was something wrong?
MARIE FRAAS We had talked the first time he went over. He said that if there came a time he needed help, he would go. So he didn’t fight me on it.
What has this been like for your kids?
BILLY FRAAS At first they didn’t know what was going on, and I didn't understand either and neither did my wife. There was no help for the family, the Army doesn't provide much help.
Are you in family therapy?
MARIE FRAAS I'm in therapy myself. I was taking the kids, but they didn’t feel comfortable going. It's still an uphill battle. Kayla -- she's 8 now. She was 5-months old when he left so she doesn’t remember too much of how Billy was before. Our younger son, he's had the hardest time. He remembers how daddy was and it's different. He knows he can't talk to him the way he did before. You have to watch how you say things, because if you say it wrong, or you don't even have to say it wrong, but he perceives it that way and he can go up the scale in his anger really fast.
BILLY FRAAS My daughter developed a tic like Tourette's brought on from stress. My youngest son is on Prozac to help him deal with issues. They're doing OK but it's affected them.
What's your day-to-day like?
BILLY FRAAS I'm in a special unit, warrior transition battalion, which is strictly for soldiers that are injured. I'm mainly going to doctors' appointments or therapy. We’re together most of the day. If there's a conflict with my schedule - say a doctors' appointment - the Sun Metro Lift, which is public transportation, will pick me up door to door and take me back. But other than that, Marie is always with me. When I'm back from D.C., I'll see someone in El Paso to deal with vertigo -- I haven’t driven in two years.
MARIE FRAAS It's a day-to-day struggle but we're coping with it better. But I feel like I can't have a day when I don’t feel well because all his days are bad days. It doesn't feel fair to the kids to have two parents down. I just got put on a CPAP machine, for sleep apnea. I have problems sleeping, partly because of what goes on with him at night. I was really upset I had to get that machine – I thought that nothing is allowed to be wrong with me. I have to be the strong one.
Billy, Do you regret your service in anyway?
BILLY FRASS No. My dad's retired Navy. I've been around the military all my life.
What is it that you want people who see the movie to understand?
BILLY FRASS To understand that this is a real injury and to not blow it off. If you're at Wal-Mart and someone drops a box and it makes a loud noise, don’t freak out if you see a soldier duck and cover. Just help him. We did our job, we fought for this country now we want someone to fight for us.
MARIA FRASS And their families.