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Fourth of July celebrations can be a struggle for veterans with PTSD

As many prepare to set off fireworks the Fourth of July holiday, some who fought for the very thing being celebrated are preparing to relive painful memories.

“At a time of year when many celebrate our country’s independence and freedom, some of our military veterans suffer in silence,” said Dr. John Wryobeck, associate professor of psychiatry at The University of Toledo.

According to Wryobeck, American veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at rates of 10 to 30 percent. Symptoms include reliving the event through bad memories or flashbacks; avoiding reminders of the event; experiencing negative feelings such as fear, guilt, shame or depression; and feeling jittery, alert or looking out for danger.

“The loud, unexpected, frequent ‘explosions’ can emotionally transport a veteran back to their wartime experiences,” Wryobeck said. “They can intellectually tell themselves they are safe, but their PTSD symptoms have them feeling differently. Both the veteran and their families can struggle during this holiday period.”

Many ordinary things can remind a veteran of time spent overseas, and it can be difficult to acclimate to life back in the United States.

“There are things like a smell or a sound that can trigger your mind back to places you have been deployed to,” said Navy Reserve Lt. Haraz Ghanbari, UT’s director of military and veteran affairs. “With fireworks – if you have been in a combat zone with gunfire, mortar rounds and IEDs, it’s easy to have your mind transported back; your body is going to react in the way it’s been trained.”

As an effort to support combat veterans who struggle during the Fourth of July, organizations such as Military with PTSD offer signs that say, “Combat veteran lives here, please be courteous with your fireworks.”

Wryobeck and Ghanbari suggest letting military veteran neighbors know when you plan to set off fireworks, so that the celebration is not unexpected.

“This is the weekend our nation celebrates her independence, and the ideas of life and liberty our service members have so valiantly fought to preserve,” Ghanbari said. “Not all combat veterans are bothered by fireworks, and if you think someone might be it’s okay to politely ask.”

Media Coverage
WTOL 11 (July 2, 2015)
WTOL 11 (July 2, 2015)
The Blade (July 3, 2015)

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