Neighborhood Fireworks Force Vets With PTSD to Revisit War

Friday, 04 Jul 2014 01:07 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A photo of a combat veteran with a sign asking his neighbors to be "courteous with fireworks" is going viral on Facebook, according to USA Today.

More than 300,000 people shared the post, including veterans who say the holiday and its fireworks are difficult for them when their neighbors are celebrating, according to the newspaper.

Washington, D.C,. psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, who founded Give an Hour to provide free behavioral counseling to troops, veterans and their families, said that sharing the post is a "nice statement" and that vets with post-traumatic stress disorder can have real difficulties with their neighbors' celebrations.

"If you know that your next-door neighbor served ... and you're planning to have a fireworks display in your backyard, it's probably the thoughtful thing to do to let them know," she told USA Today.

Loud noises or sounds that bring back traumatic memories can affect both veterans and non veterans alike, Van Dahlen said. The concern isn't that a veteran could react violently to the sounds, but the noises "could send somebody into a very painful, stressful, emotional experience remembering a firefight or a buddy who was killed."

An estimated 7 percent to 20 percent of the 2.5 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to have suffered PTSD, which causes sufferers to emotionally recall traumatic events that are triggered by sights, sounds, or smells, a report from the Institute of Medicine states.

Often, the sounds of fireworks can activate memories that cause nightmares as well, Dr. Chris Erbes, a clinical psychologist from the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, told CBS affiliate WCCO.

The dreams can be like actually re-living war, Erbes said, and veterans have asked him how they are going to get through the night.

Such veterans usually don't want to stop the celebration. They just want to know the sound is coming, said Erbes. They are able to stay away from major community celebrations, but they can't escape the booms and flashing lights coming from their own neighborhoods.

The problem doesn't only affect veterans from recent wars. Julius McCann, a reader of The Buffalo News, said in a column this week that the sounds of fireworks have bothered him ever since his service in the Vietnam War more than four decades ago.

"I was forever changed 46 years ago in Vietnam, fighting a war whose purpose I wasn’t sure of," wrote McCann. "The sounds, sights and smells of combat haunt me now more than ever before. Something triggers a sense that takes me back like it was yesterday."

McCann said he's "not a grumpy, old man who wants to suppress my neighbors’ right to celebrate our great country’s independence," but instead is "just a combat veteran who is tired of hiding from the ghosts of war." 

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