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The effects of fireworks on Veterans with PTSD

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, many places and people will be setting off fireworks to celebrate. But do most people know that fireworks can be harmful for veterans who are dealing with PTSD? When the fireworks start, it can trigger memories of combat and flashbacks for soldiers because of the loud booming sounds. It is estimated that 12 to 15% of veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are many things that can trigger a PTSD response in a veteran. 

While the Fourth of July is meant to be a day of celebration, many veterans with PTSD find it difficult to participate. For many of these veterans the Fourth of July is a major trigger for them. Even parades with marching and big bands playing can trigger an episode. The marching reminds them of marching while in the military and the music with big drums and cymbals can be over-stimulating. Crowds can be an issue for anyone with PTSD but especially so for veterans. It reminds them of being in places where a lot of people were around, people they had to defend themselves against or had to protect. Many firefights that soldiers have to go through occur at night, so the lights and booms of firecrackers bring back memories of attacks that happened in the dark. 

With all of these things going on you may be wondering what you can do to help veterans in your area feel more at ease. Here are some things that can help make your local veterans feel comfortable during this celebration if you are setting off fireworks this year. 

What can you do this July 4th? 

  1. Consider viewing public firework displays instead of setting some off in your neighborhood. 
  2. Talk with veterans in your neighborhood to see if any particular fireworks are upsetting to them.
  3. Let neighbors know what time you will be setting off fireworks and for what length of time.
  4. Refrain from setting off fireworks at unexpected times during the day.
  5. Choose a location that will be least likely to disturb veterans.
  6. Minimize the amount of fireworks that you set off.

There are also many options available to block out the noise of fireworks and parades for veterans such as:

  1. Noise cancelling headphones- They are made to block out outside noise, but they can be very costly.
  2. Earplugs- These are also good at blocking out noise, but should be used appropriately and safely to ensure the best blockage. 
  3. Earbud headphones- These headphones go directly into the ear, and can be used to listen to music or other things to help block out the noise. For some with sensitive ears, or hearing issues, listening to headphones may be uncomfortable. It is also important to not listen to anything too loudly, so as not to cause hearing loss. 
  4. Over the ear headphones- This gives a larger coverage than normal earbuds headphones, and because they cover around the ear and not directly in the ear, it is generally safer to use. 
  5. Felt headphones- These are a great alternative for those who feel uncomfortable with regular headphones, they are flat and worn as a band, these headphones are great when laying down.

There are different organizations that offer veterans a sign to place in their front yards or anywhere visible that warns people to be courteous while shooting off fireworks because a veteran with PTSD lives there. Unfortunately, some people see these signs as an invitation to place fireworks outside of these homes. This happens for many reasons, but most often it is done by people who disagree with the military, the war, or with the military industrial complex. It is important to remember, especially at this time of year, that veterans and soldiers are not the perpetrators of the violence of the military, they are survivors.

Doing this article hits really close to my heart,my grandfather was a veteran who had a difficult time during the Fourth of July. He could not be around the crowds or the bands, he would get fidgety and irritated, even going as far as to walk away and go to the car. Once the fireworks started, if he did not have anything covering his ears, he would experience flashbacks that made him drop to the ground and start acting like he was shooting and hiding in the trenches again. It would take him a few minutes once the whole thing was over for him to come back to reality. When he finally came back he was shaking and sweating and did not know anything had happened. After a while he stopped going anywhere and would not talk to us about what happened during the war. 

If you know a veteran who has PTSD and needs extra support here are a list of resources available to help them through the military:

  1.  If the veteran is still living on base, their families can find support for them on the base. One of the closest sources of initial help for a military loved one suffering from the symptoms of PTSD is a base counselor, mental health clinic, or military hospital that provides counseling and mental health services.
  2. The Department of Veterans Affairs. You can explore a wide range of materials, videos, advice, and definitions at The VA site offers articles and information for everyone involved in the process from loved ones to caregivers.

Here is a list of non military help a veteran with PTSD can receive:

  1. The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI)

  2. Veteran Service Organizations (VSO)

  3. Private Veteran-Focused Support Groups

  4. Service Animal Agencies

  5. State-Run Departments Of Veterans Affairs

  6. University Mental Health Studies, Focus Groups, And Clinical Trials

As you can see there are many ways to help our veterans feel comfortable and safe this Fourth of July. Please keep them in mind when shooting off fireworks, and remember to check in on them to make sure they are doing okay. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July everyone. 

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