Home/Front: A Combat Veteran's Caregiver Tells Her Story : Rough Translation Alicia Lammers takes on the twin roles of wife and caregiver to her veteran husband. What happens when your husband becomes your official duty? Part 2 of the story of Matt and Alicia Lammers. You can find Part 1, Battle Rattle, here.

Home/Front: Battle Lines

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

Hey. It's Gregory here. And before we start the show, we want to know who you are, what stories you want to hear and what you like about the show. So please go to npr.org/podcastsurvey to complete a short survey. We want to hear from everyone, even if you're a brand-new listener. So that's npr.org/podcastsurvey, all one word. And thanks.

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WARNER: You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. A warning - this episode contains graphic descriptions of violence, and it mentions self-harm. It may not be appropriate for everyone.

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MATT LAMMERS: That's when I remember all the traffic, civilian traffic, next to us screeched to a halt. And then, boom.

WARNER: Last time on ROUGH TRANSLATION's Home/Front.

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M LAMMERS: And they're like, Sergeant Lammers, can you wiggle your toes? And (laughter) I chuckled, and I said, with all due respect, sir, if I could wiggle my toes, we wouldn't be in this predicament.

ALICIA LAMMERS: I was so impressed with his determination. He was very positive.

M LAMMERS: I had to use some of my best lines on Alicia. I told her I'd die for her.

A LAMMERS: He said, I will die for you. It's like, you're a soldier. You will die for anyone.

(LAUGHTER)

A LAMMERS: And then he started to train me. Now I have to drive around with a military vest with ceramic plates on. We got a lot of looks (laughter) - a lot of looks. I didn't marry this man to go - to just be like that. I wanted stability. And I asked Matt, what are we doing? Like, why?

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WARNER: This is Home/Front from ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. We're continuing the story of Alicia and Matt Lammers. And if you don't know who I'm talking about, you might want to go back and listen to the previous episode, called Battle Rattle. That episode tells the story of how Matt, at age 25, became a triple amputee in an explosion in Iraq. His wife, Alicia, hoped to help him reenter civilian life. Instead, she found herself pulled into Matt's vigilante patrols. She ended that by getting them both out of Houston.

In this episode, we find Matt and Alicia back in Tucson, where Alicia starts to notice a pattern. And it leads her to wonder, what if you're the only one who sees a pattern in the behavior of the person you love but talking about that pattern feels like betrayal? Here's Quil Lawrence.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: We're going to rejoin Matt and Alicia on the edge of a swimming pool in Tucson, Ariz. Matt Lammers, Army veteran, is in his wheelchair, looking down at the water.

M LAMMERS: I was just trying to come up with a strategy of how I was going to do it. I didn't want to die. I didn't want to drown.

JESS JIANG, BYLINE: Because that was a possibility.

LAWRENCE: I'm here with ROUGH TRANSLATION producer Jess Jiang.

M LAMMERS: I guess realistically it was. But I knew I wasn't going to let that happen.

A LAMMERS: He's just like, let me see if I can swim. And I'm like, please, don't do that. If something happens to you, I can't jump in the water and get you. Like, I can't do that.

M LAMMERS: (Laughter).

A LAMMERS: I can't swim.

LAWRENCE: In typical Matt style, he's going in without a life jacket or really any kind of plan.

A LAMMERS: He's like, no, nothing's going to happen to me.

LAWRENCE: You'd never tried. I mean, you rolled up and then scrambled down in? Or how'd you get in?

M LAMMERS: I think I jumped from the wheelchair that night.

A LAMMERS: Yeah, he jumped from the wheelchair.

M LAMMERS: She held my wheelchair. I just dove my...

A LAMMERS: He said, screw the wheelchair, and put it right on the edge. And he just jumped - poom (ph).

LAWRENCE: And he sinks.

A LAMMERS: I was like (gasping). Please, God. Please, God.

LAWRENCE: Do not try this at home.

A LAMMERS: Yup, so...

LAWRENCE: Oh, my God.

But then he figures out some way to use his one arm, and he just swims.

A LAMMERS: You're swimming like a dolphin.

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A LAMMERS: Woo. Beautiful.

LAWRENCE: There's this video of Matt that Alicia took a few months later, and it's really something to watch. That bubbling sound is because Alicia is sitting in the hot tub recording while Matt's at the edge of the pool. Matt's looking down at the water with this focused expression, like a gymnast about to do a tough move, like a triple backflip. First, he drops and spins on his arm down from his wheelchair to the concrete deck, another twirl over the edge of the pool. And on the third turn...

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LAWRENCE: ...He's in.

M LAMMERS: Not too shabby.

A LAMMERS: You're awesome.

M LAMMERS: I love you.

A LAMMERS: I love you.

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A LAMMERS: Just going up and down, up and down for two hours straight, nonstop, no breaks.

M LAMMERS: It was fun. What I love about swimming, I don't rely on any prosthetics or wheelchairs or any assistive devices. And it feels so freeing just to be able to move myself from point A to point B. I get in the zone and just think about, oh, what should we watch for a movie tonight? And what's for dinner? Just swim back-and-forth, and before I know it, I'm done.

A LAMMERS: I took him to swim every day, even though I don't know how to swim. It doesn't matter.

M LAMMERS: Yeah.

A LAMMERS: I train him because it help us both. If he's physically active and it's helping his mental health, it helps the family. That's how I see it.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: How's everybody feeling out there?

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Everybody happy to be here?

LAWRENCE: Matt eventually got trained up enough to compete in the Warrior Games.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Our athletes today are classified into one of seven divisions based on their body's functionality. Come on, folks. Make some noise. We're about to kick...

(APPLAUSE)

LAWRENCE: And he wins a bunch of medals.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the No. 1 position, Matt Lammers from the Army.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah, Matt. Go, Matt. Good job, Matt.

(APPLAUSE)

A LAMMERS: I sit there on the deck, and I count all the laps and the time. And I do that in 110 degrees in Arizona. I did it in the winter in 20-degree weather and with my coat, just counting laps. His goals became my goals.

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LAWRENCE: When Alicia was a kid growing up in Sonora, Mexico, her mom was the person in her neighborhood who knew how to give injections. So people would buy their medicine. They'd bring it to her mom, and she'd give them the jab. Her mom never charged a penny. And she told Alicia, getting the opportunity to help someone is a blessing.

When Alicia came to the U.S., she trained as a certified nurse's assistant and started working with terminally ill patients. She burned out on that work, so she ended up in retail. But helping Matt felt like she was back in that spirit of service, something she could be proud of. And then the Department of Veterans Affairs gave her an official title.

Tell me, when did you first hear about the caregiver program?

A LAMMERS: I heard about the caregiver program through Matt's social worker in Houston, Texas. They let him know that he could have a caregiver and it could be anyone he wanted. And so he said, well, I want Alicia.

LAWRENCE: The VA launched this caregiver program in 2011, and it was a way to pay caregivers really for the work they were already doing. This way, Alicia doesn't have to worry about trying to hold down a full-time job while she's taking care of Matt.

A LAMMERS: They asked me what I do for him and how he needed help. We signed some paperwork, and that was pretty much it.

LAWRENCE: With the caregiver stipend from the VA, Alicia didn't have to juggle shifts at the Bed, Bath & Beyond anymore. She could focus on Matt's needs and do things like take him to the pool every morning, which is great for his physical health but also his mental health - except Matt seemed to be taking it to extremes.

A LAMMERS: He was swimming every day. He was swimming a mile to three miles, five miles in one day. And it was all about swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming. And he's thinking that this is his life. The way he was a soldier, now he's a swimmer. And it was making me uncomfortable.

LAWRENCE: Matt would get mad if he'd glance up from his swimming and see her reading a book instead of counting his laps.

A LAMMERS: So he thought that I was missing count. And he would be very angry and frustrated. So I was like, wait a second, he wants me to just look at him while he's swimming for three hours? Can you imagine every day, three hours just looking at the pool just so you can click every single time he does a lap?

LAWRENCE: It reminded her of sitting in the passenger seat for hours on those armed patrols he'd take her on in Houston.

A LAMMERS: So one day, it was driving to nowhere, patrolling the city. And then the next year, it's just swim, swim, swim, swim. It was too much.

LAWRENCE: There were other behaviors, too, that worried her. He wasn't sleeping. He would forget things like what he had for dinner the night before. And he would go on spending sprees.

A LAMMERS: Matt go into a gas station, and in 15 minutes he'll spend $300. It's three aisles, and he'll spend $300 there.

LAWRENCE: One day, she took Matt to a neurologist for his insomnia.

A LAMMERS: And then the doctor said certain things like insomnia are very common in patients with brain injury.

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A LAMMERS: And I'm like, brain injury - like, this is the first time I heard of that.

LAWRENCE: So she goes home and looks up the VA paperwork that marks all of Matt's disabilities.

A LAMMERS: And on the first page, you have, he's a burn victim, and it tells you how much percentage of burns on his body. It tells you he has PTSD. It tells you 100% disability for both legs above the knee and then the arm above the elbow. And his brain injury is not on the list. So I was like, why a brain injury's not here?

LAWRENCE: While Matt was deployed, neither the military nor the VA were on top of just how many thousands of troops were coming home with undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries, TBIs. But by 2014, when Alicia's finding this out, TBIs were all over the news. The VA and the military were studying it.

A LAMMERS: So I asked the VA, and they told me, well, he's not going to get more than 100%. He's already 100%.

LAWRENCE: She says the VA told her he already had the maximum benefit.

A LAMMERS: But that's not the point. The point is it's not on the list of diagnoses.

LAWRENCE: The person she's talking with at the VA thinks she's trying to claim more benefits. But Alicia just wants to get Matt the right treatment.

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A LAMMERS: I was so desperate. I was just buying every book that would say brain injury or how to reset your brain or how to make your brain better, how to change your diet to improve your memory. I have all kinds of books around.

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A LAMMERS: But if the veteran is not willing to do what the book said, it's just a book that you went through. You don't know if it's going to work or not because they didn't do it.

LAWRENCE: She'd try to get Matt to go to therapy, but he said that was too much of a trigger. She wanted him to get a brain scan, but he said he was afraid of hospitals. Every three months, Alicia would get a call from the VA caregiver program. The coordinator would ask her a set of questions - always the same questions. It was a survey. Do you feel safe? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you have any immediate goals? What are the veteran's short-term goals? She told them about these symptoms - the loss of memory, the binge spending, the excessive workouts.

A LAMMERS: They're telling me, make sure you schedule him for a psychiatrist appointment. But I cannot just schedule the veteran to a place that he doesn't want to go.

LAWRENCE: It's interesting - Alicia doesn't say she can't schedule Matt for an appointment. She says, I can't schedule the veteran.

A LAMMERS: Well, I think I'm calling him the veteran because I know that there is way more veterans that are going through the same thing, so it's a veteran issue. It's - this happened, and my experience happened to be Matt.

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LAWRENCE: She would remind herself Matt's not alone. Thousands of veterans were wounded in these wars, and many of them needed their loved ones to help them. She wanted to do her part.

A LAMMERS: I didn't want to be the quitter. I didn't want to be the one who just looked for an easy way out. I didn't want to be that person.

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WARNER: ROUGH TRANSLATION's Home/Front back after this break.

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LAWRENCE: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION's Home/Front. I'm Quil Lawrence.

While Alicia's been telling us about her struggles with Matt, Matt is sitting right next to her, listening.

What's your memory of that time like?

M LAMMERS: I know she's always working behind the scenes, but I didn't know that all that was going on. I'm learning stuff today. It was shortly after the Warrior Games, and it was approaching my first alive day, which was around September - 8 September.

LAWRENCE: An alive day is the anniversary of the day that you almost died in war. So it was right before the first time he almost died in Iraq.

M LAMMERS: I got a phone call that two of my friends had committed suicide the same day. And so I just immediately broke down. I started crying. And I was kind of in limbo. I didn't want to be here at the time anymore, but I wasn't ready to pass on. So I was just going back and forth like a pingpong. But I knew that suicide is a final option. There's no backing out of that.

LAWRENCE: Matt's spells of sadness would often turn into anger.

A LAMMERS: He broke a glass - a very thick glass - on his own head, and he was bleeding because, you know, our heads have so many vessels that they bleed and bleed. So I thought that he was in danger at that point. I called the police because I thought he was out of control.

M LAMMERS: She did the right thing. She was calling for the police. They have people that come out not to arrest you. They have people to come out and just talk you through an episode or a hard time.

LAWRENCE: Matt says this now, but at the time, he was angry that she had told anyone about his behavior. He felt betrayed. And they were still arguing when the cops showed up.

A LAMMERS: They asked Matt to stay in the house and asked me to leave the house for the night. And I didn't have any money. Where am I going to go? So I had to sleep in the cold weather in the car. And this happened three times.

LAWRENCE: Each time Alicia called the cops, their response was a cooling-off period.

A LAMMERS: But because he's a disabled veteran, he's the one who stayed on the apartment, and I had to sleep in the car. So I learned from that, too. I was like, well, every time I call the cops, they just ask me to leave the house. I don't want to do that.

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LAWRENCE: When the three months rolled around and Alicia got a call from the coordinator at the VA caregiver program, Alicia did not tell them about Matt's suicidal thoughts. She felt it should be up to him to share that. And Matt's still refusing to get therapy.

A LAMMERS: So I start doing a one-on-one. And one-on-one is the care you do with someone that is suicidal, so they assign one health care provider to be with this person 24/7. Every 15 minutes, you have to write down what that person's doing 'cause that person may kill themselves in a blink of an eye. So it's called one-on-one care.

LAWRENCE: Alicia had done this work as a certified nurse's assistant, though usually it's done in shifts by a whole team of health care providers. Alicia decided to take it on alone.

A LAMMERS: So I was doing a one-on-one for 24 hours, three days straight.

M LAMMERS: So when were you sleeping?

A LAMMERS: I wasn't sleeping. I would be just sitting up and, like, kind of drifting off. And when it - I notice that he would try to sleep, then I try to sleep a little bit. Then I - we had a water bed, so if the water bed moved, then I would be up again. Yeah, I drink a lot of water because you drink a lot of water during the night, like, drink 12 ounces of water straight in an hour when I wake up because your bladder will wake you up.

M LAMMERS: That's how you're keeping yourself from sleeping too long.

A LAMMERS: So I did that for, like, three, four days when he was worse. And then it start getting better 'cause it goes in cycles. And he feel guilty about trying to attempt suicide, and then things get better and then back to suicidal mode. It was just a whole horrible cycle.

LAWRENCE: Alicia wanted to know what was triggering the angry outbursts, the thoughts of suicide.

A LAMMERS: Is it the time of the year, the weather? You know, is it the pain? Because pain will make you cranky.

LAWRENCE: She started to keep a journal. At first, she wrote in Spanish, but Matt got mad and said, you're writing about me. So she came up with a system he wouldn't notice.

A LAMMERS: I created a calendar which I started to put a little tiny mark. It was a little star whenever he did something that was out of the ordinary.

LAWRENCE: At the end of the month, she'd look at all the little stars, and she'd try to find clues.

A LAMMERS: I just thought in my mind, maybe there is a pattern. And if I find the pattern, you know, bingo. I will know which days were good (laughter) and which days were not.

LAWRENCE: And Alicia did find patterns.

A LAMMERS: I noticed that the week before his adoption day, when he came to America, like, few days before and a few days after that day, those days he act up the most.

LAWRENCE: Another trigger was his birthday in March and his two alive days in June and September and then the whole period between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. Alicia called that the winter blues.

A LAMMERS: He also has external triggers - rude people, people looking at him weird, pointing at him, traffic - that's another trigger - being a passenger.

LAWRENCE: In Iraq, the two times he was almost killed, Matt was in a passenger seat. So Alicia thought that might be why riding as a passenger gave him such anxiety, such anger. At the time, Alicia kept this journal of Matt's triggers a secret from him. And there were lots of things he wanted her to keep secret from everyone. But now...

A LAMMERS: How much can we talk, everything?

M LAMMERS: Whatever you want to be in (ph).

A LAMMERS: Yeah?

M LAMMERS: Yeah.

LAWRENCE: Matt gives his permission. It's OK for her to tell everything, but it's still not easy for him to hear this stuff. While Alicia is telling this story, Matt keeps going out for cigarette breaks. At one point, he goes out on the porch and stays there. I go out there with him. Jess stays back with Alicia.

JIANG: When Matt's out of the room, her stories take a darker edge. Alicia tells me about a rescue dog that she and Matt adopted.

A LAMMERS: She was a sweetheart, Ginger. And then - so Matt went through that depression. And right after that depression, he became more violent and start yelling at Ginger. And Ginger was old. So it will take Ginger an extra effort to go and get us a little snack. And he'll snap because she didn't came fast or she - he snap because Ginger didn't want to get on the truck, you know, and things like that. Her and I went through a lot. And every time Matt snap, we both lock ourselves in a closet. And we were both like, oh, my God, I hope this pass quick 'cause he was just, like, throwing things around the house, punching holes on the walls. He was just like a caged animal, just angry.

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A LAMMERS: And at the very beginning of this episodes, he'll tell me, I'm not angry of you, I just see everything red. I'm just angry. And - so one day, he wasn't sleeping too good, so he started to hit Ginger. And so I get up early in the morning, and I grab Ginger because he told me the night before that he'll kill her the next day. So I took her to the doggy shelter. And I cry a lot. I cry a lot.

JIANG: Were you afraid of Matt at that point?

A LAMMERS: Yes, I was. Yes because I was kind of blaming on myself. I didn't know how I'm going to trigger this man next and how he's going to react because every time was so different. And it was escalating. So yes, Ginger was afraid of Matt, and I was afraid of Matt.

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JIANG: This whole time we've been talking, Alicia has been knitting. You can hear the sound of her needles. She's making these red, white and blue American flag shawls, which she sells on Etsy. And at first, I think it's just a hobby to earn some extra money. But she tells me, no.

A LAMMERS: I need something to distract my mind. So some people meditate. I don't know how to meditate, but I'll be like, (inhaling, exhaling), I'm knitting and trying to think of something that makes you happy, think of my childhood. I had a good childhood. I had a good stepdad. I had a great dad. You're distracting your brain. You're keeping your hands busy with anxiety is very useful 'cause you're feel like - you know, you've got to do something or - you know, 'cause if you go outside and you get involved in that war, then you're trapped, then you're - just end up losing yourself. And I was very close to losing myself many times.

JIANG: She says that with Ginger gone, Matt started throwing things at her. He pointed a gun at her. She didn't tell anybody. She didn't tell the VA caregiver coordinator or her siblings, not even her mom.

A LAMMERS: I felt like I shouldn't talk to anyone about these things.

JIANG: Why?

A LAMMERS: Because talking to a civilian, would it be like talking to the Alicia before Matt? So I wouldn't understand.

JIANG: She thought civilians would tell her to take care of herself, get out of this relationship, which she says is exactly the advice she would have given before she met Matt.

A LAMMERS: If someone comes to me and says, I'm married to a veteran, and this is what it's doing to me. I'll tell her, what are you doing there? Run, Forrest, you know? It's like, why? Why would you let anyone take advantage of you? No, girl. Leave. But I felt like someone in the military, with military background will understand.

LAWRENCE: Over the years, I've talked to maybe a dozen military spouses in this sort of situation. Not many want to talk publicly about it, but some have broken the silence.

KAYLA WILLIAMS: That resonates with me quite a bit.

LAWRENCE: Kayla Williams is the assistant secretary for public affairs at the VA. She's an Iraq vet, so is her husband. And she's written a book about being his caregiver after his brain injury.

WILLIAMS: It was significantly harder to feel like I could share what was happening inside my marriage with civilians who didn't understand.

LAWRENCE: Her husband was abusive, and he could get violent. She was frightened.

WILLIAMS: It's very hard to admit that you may be angry or afraid or frustrated when you're caring for a hero.

LAWRENCE: Was this harder to explain to civilians, like why one would stay?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. All I had to say to other veterans is, you know, oh, yeah, we were always trained to never leave a fallen comrade behind. You would never leave someone behind on the battlefield. And this is an extension of that. And they're like, oh, yeah, I get that.

LAWRENCE: What look did you get if you said that to a civilian?

WILLIAMS: They look at you like you're crazy.

LAWRENCE: Alicia felt the same way.

A LAMMERS: They won't understand because they're just civilians. They don't know. They just don't know what a veteran does.

LAWRENCE: But Alicia herself is a civilian.

A LAMMERS: Yes, yes. We family civilians don't really know, you know? We're not the ones who were engaged in war, in fights and things like that.

LAWRENCE: Alicia had no one to reach out to. She doesn't have comrades, no friends who are veterans except the ones she's met through Matt. And they weren't around anymore. So she's doubly isolated. She's cut off from the civilian world and from the military world. She's in Matt's war, and she's not sure if he's a friend or an enemy.

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WARNER: ROUGH TRANSLATION's Home/Front, back after this break.

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LAWRENCE: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION's Home/Front. I'm Quil Lawrence. When Alicia first moved in with Matt, she imagined a lot of cozy nights spent at home watching movies on the couch, doing homey kind of things. But Matt is restless. He's always taking her on the road, which is stressful because traffic sets him off. And now he's more and more turning that anger against Alicia.

JIANG: One day, they're driving back home to Tucson after a trip to California to visit friends.

A LAMMERS: It's only eight hours drive, but I wasn't that used to driving back then. So it was very tiring. I was in a bad mood. He was angry already. I just wanted to go home and rest. We were out for a month already. I wanted to go home and just stay home.

JIANG: Matt's hungry, though, so they make one last stop at a Subway sandwich place. It's just across the street from their home.

A LAMMERS: And I usually - I don't mind going and get his food, but he was calling me names. Like, he asked me to go and get the Subway. But he called me names like you bitch or something like that. So I started complaining because in the past I would be kind of quiet. This time I started to talk back. And I was like, you know what? If you're going to treat me that way, if you want it, you go and get it.

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A LAMMERS: And he was hurt. He was in a lot of pain. So I walk home. I got home, and I knew he was going to do something to me. Like, I knew it.

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A LAMMERS: So I look around and try to make a backpack, like, an emergency backpack with stuff - underwear, socks, you know, something...

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A LAMMERS: ...And grab the keys of my car. And then I was - like, in case I can't run on time, I got a Sharpie, and I wrote my son's phone number on me with a Sharpie in case he does something to me so someone will notify my family. So yeah.

JIANG: You wrote it - where did...

A LAMMERS: On my belly so he wouldn't see it. So I wrote son, and then I put my son's phone number. And then I was packing up my stuff when he walked into the house and started calling me names. So I run to the spare room. And he came and started hitting - the doors are so, like, thin, you know? It's not like strong doors, like main doors. The room doors are different. So they're very weak. So he knocked the door over. And so he kind of jumped on me, and he got on top of me.

JIANG: Wait, he had jumped on top of you? How?

A LAMMERS: So he was using his stubbies. And he just jumped. With his stubbies, he's 5'3", and I'm 5'5".

JIANG: And stubbies are his prosthetics.

A LAMMERS: His prosthetics. It's a short version of prosthetics with no knees. It's just training legs.

JIANG: Mmm hmm.

A LAMMERS: And so he started choking me. And with his limb, what he has left, he started pushing the other side. And it was like having a piece of wood stuck because it's not a hand. It's just something very sharp, the bone - right? - going into it.

JIANG: You could feel the bone of his limb.

A LAMMERS: Right, on my neck. It keeps choking me, choking me.

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A LAMMERS: I fight at first. And then I got scared. Because I know if I do something to him, if I hurt him, they're going to take me to jail. If I'm trying to defend myself and I do something to him, I'm going to be in trouble because he's a triple amputee. So people think he's vulnerable, I'm stronger than him because I have advantage. I have legs. I have both arms. He used to threaten me, saying that if I call the cops, he's going to change the story and say that I'm the one abusing him, and they will believe him, not me.

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A LAMMERS: If I do something to him, if I hurt him, they're going to take me to jail.

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A LAMMERS: So I just let go. I was like, if he kills me, he kills me. That's it. And I started seeing everything dark. And then he noticed that I stopped fighting, so he thought he killed me. So he stopped and started calling my name - Alicia, Alicia, Alicia. So I heard my name, like, far away, and then, like, more close and close. And when I realized he's yelling at me, he stopped choking me, I just push him aside, got up and went to our room. And I locked myself in the closet for a little bit. And yeah. It's hard to remember still. Yeah.

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A LAMMERS: He came, knocked the door a thousand times. Please forgive me. Please forgive me. The only thing I wanted is a sandwich. I'm sorry I treated you that way. And I started thinking, he's not sorry. He's going to do it again. He's going to do it again. And so I open the door, but I didn't say a word. And he said, forgive me and this, this and that. And I'm like, OK, anything else? Anything else? And I was just looking at him.

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A LAMMERS: And how many times I went to a room and I just put - locked myself in that room. And every time he needed me, I came out of the room, do what he asked me to do, came back inside the room. It was just, your food is ready, and no love, no compassion, no scared, no nothing, nothing. Oh, my God, I made an extra row (laughter).

JIANG: All this while Alicia's been knitting her American flag shawl, and she's made an extra row blue.

I'm sorry, I feel like I'm distracting you.

A LAMMERS: No. It's OK.

JIANG: Alicia says that during this period, she felt empty. She hardly recognized herself. Life had gone so differently than she'd expected when she moved in with Matt. She didn't know who he was to her anymore or what she meant to him, except she was his caregiver. She could still be that. She'd open his water bottles, drive him to his doctor's appointments, clip his nails, and then go back to her room and knit.

A LAMMERS: So he noticed that I was different. And then one day, he asked me what was going on and if I was planning to leave him. And I said, well, I've been thinking about it. You're not the same person I married, and you're supposed to protect me. You're supposed to love me, and you're not doing any of that. And he apologized again. And then I told him, what would you do if something does that to your girls? You have three daughters. And then his answer was, well, I'll ask them if their spouse is a veteran, like, as if there's a just some - justifying, you know, if it's a veteran, then it's OK. And I said, no, it's not OK. I said, that's not excuses. And I was, like, I figure I need to make a plan to leave.

JIANG: But making a plan to leave was not easy.

A LAMMERS: At that point, I didn't have a job anymore because I was his caregiver only. I didn't have any income. I don't have family in Tucson. I don't have a place to go. So I just feel trapped, completely trapped.

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WARNER: Every three months, when Alicia's caregiver coordinator would call for their seasonal check in and ask the same survey questions - do you feel safe? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you have any immediate goals? What are the veteran's short-term goals? - Alicia would answer as best she could, stopping short of the abuse. She'd talk about Matt's anger, his compulsions, his triggers and his need for control, but not about the violence directed at her.

She knew that the things he'd done to her were bad enough that if the VA found out about them, they might decide to kick her off the caregiver program for her own protection, at which point Matt would be a danger to himself, and she wouldn't be there to protect him. And so she felt trapped by her sense of duty and by the role that the VA had given her. And it turns out, the VA knew all about that trap.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Everybody thinks that, oh, you're in the hands of the VA? You're going to be well taken care of. I beg to differ to the T.

WARNER: That's next time on Home/Front.

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WARNER: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse or has thoughts of self-harm, here are some resources for you. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org. The National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-8255.

Today's episode was produced by Jess Jiang. Our editor is Lu Olkowski. The ROUGH TRANSLATION team includes Luis Trelles, Matt Ozug and Justine Yan. Our new intern is Alicia Chan (ph). The ROUGH TRANSLATION executive team is Neal Carruth, Didi Schanche, Anya Grundmann. Special thanks to Chris Turpin and Vickie Walton-James. Nicole Beemsterboer is our senior supervising producer. Brin Winterbottom fact-checked this episode. Mastering by Isaac Rodrigues. Retired Army Captain Kimo Williams composed Home/Front's theme song. Additional music from John Ellis. I'm Gregory Warner, back next week with more Home/Front from ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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