Fireworks may trigger anxiety, flashbacks for veterans dealing with PTSD

Nothing is more American than fireworks on the Fourth of July. But for veterans struggling with invisible wounds of war, nothing can be more unnerving.

"A lot of veterans struggle with fireworks every year," said Shawn Gourley.

Her husband is a veteran being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder since 2009. Gourley said every Independence Day since then, the blasts and bangs of fireworks have triggered flashbacks of war.

"It wasn't just us,” she said. “There were many families.”

Gourley started the Military with PTSD Facebook group, which has 145,000 members. Many of those veterans are proudly posting selfies with the group’s lawn signs asking neighbors to be considerate when setting off fireworks near their homes.

"We're not asking anyone not to have fireworks,” she told us. “We're just asking for a little courtesy and respect."

It is important to know that this is not a small problem. The VA Maryland Health Care System estimates that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of all veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychologists at the VA say for a PTSD patient, reactions can range from irritability to panic attacks.

"The bright lights, the sudden noise can startle and bring up a memory of a combat experience or another type of traumatic event," said Dr. Erin Moreno of the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Doctors say by giving PTSD veterans a heads-up about fireworks, it gives them time to prepare themselves.

"Practice listening to loud booms or fireworks, watching fireworks displays, they can be practicing breathing or other relaxation techniques,” Dr. Erica White said.

It is a question of courtesy on the Fourth for American heroes still fighting battles.

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