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A Disabled Veteran Tells His Story For National PTSD Awareness Day

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Today is National PTSD Awareness Day, and we're going to tell you one story of an American veteran of the Iraq war and his wife and the toll post-traumatic stress disorder took on their relationship. Their story is featured in the current season of NPR's podcast, Rough Translation. NPR's Quil Lawrence is cohosting that season, and he joins us now. Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about this couple.

LAWRENCE: Yeah, Matt Lammers - he's an Iraq war vet, two Purple Hearts. The second one is from an explosion which cost him both his legs and his left arm. And he's also got PTSD. People call that kind of a hidden wound. But because he's a triple amputee, people notice him, and then they see his military tattoos or bag. And almost every time I've ever been out in public with him, strangers come up and say thank you for your service. And he doesn't always know what to say back.

MATT LAMMERS: And then some days I wonder what they mean, thanking you for your service. Are they like, thanks for having your legs and your arm blown off? Like, I didn't really do that for them. I mean, it just - I happened to be sitting there, and this bomb went off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you for your service - it's something we all say. Is that's something that veterans dislike? I imagine all vets are different.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. There's different feelings about it. I mean, some veterans really appreciate people just reaching out across this gap that does separate civilians from the military in America. But for Matt, it can kind of set off a bunch of memories.

M LAMMERS: After a day of that, I come home, and everything hits me. And then I feel just empty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us about his wife. I mean, did they meet before he went to war?

LAWRENCE: It was afterwards, actually. He rolled into her Bed, Bath and Beyond where she was working.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Huh.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. Her name is Alicia Lammers. They meet, and they fall in love. And at first, she's living in Tucson, and he's in Houston. And Matt has a truck that's adapted to drive with his one remaining arm.

ALICIA LAMMERS: He did. He used to drive from Texas to Tucson just to see me. Yeah, that's how we started our relationship.

LAWRENCE: And they get married. But Matt is not getting treated for his PTSD, and he's acting like he's still at war. And he starts insisting that Alicia prepare for war, too.

A LAMMERS: And then he started to train me. So he started to wake me up in the middle of the night, show me how to shoot, reload magazines at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning - thousands of magazines. That house started to feel like it was just a military place. He was training me for the apocalypse or, you know, for something.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that's starting to sound dangerous for Alicia.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. And I want to be really clear; this is an extreme example. But this manipulation turns abusive, and Matt gets violent. And I want to say, most people, including most veterans with PTSD, are not violent. And we don't want to reinforce any sort of stereotype that war veterans are broken or ticking time bombs. But at the same time, there is a link between PTSD and some violent behavior, and most often that is domestic violence. And Alicia is suffering, and she's in danger, and she knows that she should leave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how does she get help? Who takes care of the people taking care of veterans?

LAWRENCE: Well, she stays silent about it until - it's actually another disabled veteran who also has PTSD, and he comes actually to help Matt. But when Alicia meets him, she feels like she can finally talk to someone.

A LAMMERS: So that was the first time that I opened up 100% about everything happening to that point. And he asked me, do you have a phone with you?

LAWRENCE: He tells her to Google secondary PTSD.

A LAMMERS: And I said, yes. He said, just Google it really quick, and read it out loud to me. So I did that. And I remember crying and crying. And I cried till my eyes were, like, bubbled. They were so swelling because all my crying. But that day I just let go of so many things.

LAWRENCE: And it takes her quite a while to figure out how to save herself but also take care of Matt.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, isn't the Department of Veteran Affairs supposed to do that? I mean, that's the promise that this country makes when we send people to war, right?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. And it's not clear who's going to keep that promise. And there's the stigma with PTSD. And Matt has a lot of other complications which make it hard for him to get help from the VA. But they both say now that they want their very painful example to encourage others not to suffer alone, to get help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence. You can hear more of his reporting in the latest season of the Rough Translation podcast. Quil, thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG'S "SPARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.