How fireworks affect veterans with PTSD

Local News

UNITED STATES (WCIA)–For many, the Fourth of July is celebrated by sending loud, bright lights into the sky. But for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, the holiday could mean panic attacks and flashbacks. Roman candles, bottle rockets, even sparklers all have the ability to send a combat veteran right back to their time at war. Flashing lights, loud booms, and the smell of explosives. All things combat veterans expect to leave overseas. That’s until July rolls around.
“It’s everything. These memories are stored in a way that has all those sensations. Vision. Smell. Sound, ” Dr. Stephanie Ericksen says.
“When you’re at war you don’t know it’s coming. You walking and the next minute, ‘boom’ something blows up in front of you or beside you,” Richard Simonton says.
It’s a feeling army veteran Richard Simonton knows all too well.
“Because I can’t. Because I can’t do the booms, the flashes. If I know they’re coming I’m alright. But if I don’t know they’re coming I’ll get nervous. Sometimes I’ll jump under a chair, flip something over. And I won’t even realize I’m doing it,” Simonton explains.
Simonton says service men and women are taught, be prepared for the unexpected and respond.
“They train you to react without thinking. To react. So when they boom goes off you react,” Simonton says.
After five years of service, Simonton had a hard time enjoying his favorite time of year. Until he put the show in his own hands.
“I live out in the country so I don’t have neighbors who set off fireworks. Most of my neighbors come to my house. And that’s just the easiest way to do it,” Simonton.
It’s a strategy many with PTSD use.
“For some veterans, if they’re setting them off themselves it kind of gives them a sense of control,” Ericksen says.
It might be one person’s problem, but it’s something everyone can help.
“If they know they have a veteran neighbor they should go and explain, ‘hey I’m going to let off fireworks this day at this time’ so that way he knows at least there’s something coming,” Simonton explains.
While some with PTSD stay away from large firework displays, others decide to go. But professionals suggest having an exit plan in place just in case it’s too much to handle. The Department of Veteran Affairs says, around 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operation Iraqui Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD every year

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