OKLAHOMA CITY – Let freedom ring, but please remember those who sacrificed so much to guarantee us that freedom.
The loud pops, bangs, and flashes of fireworks can be very triggering to our service men and women who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“From my experience working with veterans at three different Veteran Affairs hospitals, PTSD stems from what they experienced during active duty, usually combat situations,” says Dr. Kimberlee Wilson, who is an addiction psychiatrist and medical director of Arcadia Trails INTEGRIS Center for Addiction Recovery. “Loud noises from fireworks that sound like gunfire, or lights in the skies that look like explosions, can trigger PTSD for veterans.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20 percent of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year.
“I wasn’t fully diagnosed with PTSD until about four years ago,” combat engineer with special operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Trevor Nieto says. “I was being treated for anxiety and anger issues. These days, I don’t do a lot of my own driving. I’m not good in crowds and loud noises get to me. It all added up to PTSD.”
INTEGRIS says PTSD in veterans stems from the brain’s learned response to a dangerous situation. If a person is put into events where trauma occurs or where the “fight or flight” instinct is aroused, the brain learns to protect itself when similar events happen.
“It’s a natural, primitive response designed to protect us,” says Dr. Wilson. “The brain learns about dangerous events, and if faced with a dangerous situation, it kicks in with a response. The heart rate increases, epinephrine is released and the breathing increases. Sometimes a person forgets where they are because they are trying to ‘escape’ that dangerous situation. Even parades with marching and big band music playing can affect them. The marching reminds them of marching while in the military and the music with its big drums and cymbals can be over-stimulating”
“For me, loud noises like explosions bother me,” Nieto says. “When I’m caught off guard, it can scare the daylights out of me. The unpredictability of a crowd is a big problem. You never know what you’re going to come across and it can make you super uneasy. It’s something that is instilled and ingrained in us. Once a soldier, always a soldier.”
One nonprofit is working to help raise awareness that the surprise sights and sounds of Independence Day can bring unwelcome memories up for our nation’s veterans.
Military with PTSD has been providing veterans with “Please be courteous with fireworks” signs since 2013.
Any veteran wanting to sign up for a free sign please click HERE to be added to the waiting list.
Veterans and their loved ones in crisis should call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net to receive free, confidential support from the VA Veterans Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.