Heath Phillips joined the Navy when he was 17 years old. Just a year later, he says he was discharged after reporting that he was sexually assaulted.
"If I could pull myself out of my skin, I would've," he said, recalling how he felt after the first time he was assaulted. "Just because I just felt dirty."
He says he struggled for 20 years after he was assaulted. He was drinking. He was in and out of jail. And In 2009, he attempted suicide.
Then, Phillips decided to make a change.
"Sharing my story, what happened to me, my growth, is a form of healing for me."
Now, his story has been shared in the New York Times and around the world.
This year alone, he's done 30 presentations at military bases, telling soldiers what to do if they become victims, and what help is available. He's spoken as close as Fort Drum — and as far as South Korea.
"You have to get it out," he said. "It'll destroy you inside."
He says everyone needs to be more mindful of what other people might be going for.
"If you see somebody that was six months ago was laughing, joking, and all of a sudden they're quiet, just ask them what's going on."
Heath frequently goes to Washington D.C. to push legislation for sexual assault prevention, and he's a spokesperson for a new personal safety phone app. He has even decided to run for the Cortland County Legislature as an independent. He wants to add mental health resources, and create a shelter for women and children.
"I feel good about myself for once," he said, smiling. "You know, a lot of years I hated myself."
The struggles with PTSD continue, but sharing his story and helping others is the best treatment.
"Yes, I have been raped. Yes, I'm a survivor. But you can still move forward."