HARDINSBURG, KY (WAVE) - A Kentuckiana family is trying to turn their tragedy into a helping hand for others in their same position. Army Specialist Cody Baker, an Iraq War veteran, took his life earlier this month.
His family says he suffered for years from post traumatic stress disorder and now they're hoping to change the way military members are treated.
Cody's family says his excitement at competing in the Meade County Fair's Mud Sling was there on his face for all to see. A month later, the same truck carried his coffin for his burial.
On August 19, the man his family remembers for his big smile committed suicide.
His wife Laci says she knew immediately it was because of PTSD. "There was no doubt in my mind because my Cody wouldn't do that," she said. "There's no way. He was way too full of life and cared way too much about everybody else to do something like that, to leave everybody behind. He was not that type of person. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew immediately what had happened."
Laci knew the man who came back from Iraq in 2008 was different almost as soon as he returned.
"I noticed the first night that Cody got home from overseas that he had a nightmare in the night. He woke up and he couldn't breathe," she said.
She also noticed that Cody seemed like he had to stay busy. "It's like he couldn't stop for fear that something would catch up with him."
Laci says Cody sought help from the VA for PTSD in 2009 and then again three years later.
"He said, 'You know, I just got this blank stare back,' and it is so traumatic for them for starters to live it day to day but to dredge up even more to try to tell somebody about it, to try to get help and to get a blank stare back, it just set him off," she said.
Laci says in the past year, she thought her husband seemed more himself, self medicating with alcohol, but closer to the 17-year-old who joined the Army.
"He would drink until he thought it was ok that he could go to sleep and then the nightmares were more vivid with alcohol," said Laci.
Laci says Cody -- now out of the Army -- told her the nightmares were also worse when he traveled for work, "When he would wake up, he's in a strange place, I'm not there, there's not familiar surroundings."
On August 19, that's what Laci thinks happened. "I know in my heart that's what happened that night. I know that he woke up from a nightmare and just couldn't get out of it."
Now the nightmare for Cody's family -- his suicide -- is one they'll have to live with, but one they hope will change the way PTSD is treated and the help available for the veterans who are suffering.
"Besides trying to help others, I'm at peace with all of this. I really am," Laci said. "The beginning of the week before he got here -- because it took about four days for him to get here after we found out what happened -- it just wasn't real but after seeing him, it was ok because I knew he was ok."
The military has made a push to make help more readily available. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, a crisis line is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. A confidential chat is also available at VeteransCrisisLine.net.
However, Cody's family says they doubt he would have had the patience to go through the automated system that military members first encounter on that number.
They'd like to see more follow up checks with service members who have returned home, months after their deployment, when Laci says Cody started struggling the most.
They've started a petition to ask for more. Click here to sign it.