Veterans with PTSD using new tools to cope with fireworks sensitivities

Combat veteran warns neighbors of fireworks trauma with sign (Military with PTSD Photo)
Combat veteran warns neighbors of fireworks trauma with sign (Military with PTSD Photo)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Fireworks and the Fourth of July go together like peanut butter and jelly, but for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Independence Day can recreate nightmares.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans are expected to show signs of PTSD in their lifetimes. Eleven to 20 percent of soldiers who toured in Iraq and Afghanistan will likely exhibit behavior consistent with PTSD, and 12 percent of service members from Desert Storm will have it each year, the VA said.

“In some cases they like the sound of the fireworks, because it’s the sound of victory to them,” said Allen Bergeron, Veteran Services administrator for the city of Austin. “The song was written because of the bomb bursting in mid air — the victory.”

“It could be a celebration of victory, and then it could be triggering a thought where an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) went off,” Bergeron said.

He explained that even simple circumstances trigger the trauma. “…the sound of an exhaust backfiring, or fireworks going off, or a door slam, or could be a bag of trash along the side of the road. One size does not fit all in this case,” he stated.

A veteran wears special noise-canceling headphones that replace the sound of booming fireworks with "thank you" messages for the veteran wearing them. (Courtesy photo/Military with PTSD)
A veteran wears special noise-canceling headphones that replace the sound of booming fireworks with “thank you” messages for the veteran wearing them. (Courtesy/Military with PTSD)

“PTSD sensitizes the individual’s brain so it’s kind of keyed toward looking for danger,” mentioned retired Army Colonel Jack Swope. A licensed professional counselor, Swope leads Hope for Heroes, a group aimed at assisting military members and veterans through the Samaritan Counseling Center.

“It’s unexpected noises, and related to that, it’s unexpected movement,” Swope added.

Many veterans post signs in their yards as a warning to neighbors about their sensitivities. One group took that sensitivity to the next level, by producing branch-specific signs for Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy. A Texas company helped design and produce the signs. The national organization “Military with PTSD” went a step further by creating a prototype of noise-canceling headphones that replace the boom of the fireworks with prerecorded “thank you” messages to the veteran who wears them.

“Any type of noise-reduction headphones, or messages, prayer meditation, if it works for one veteran, it’s worth it,” Bergeron said, urging Texans to be polite to their neighbors before launching fireworks. Popping fireworks inside city limits is illegal in many Texas cities.

“Just be mindful of your neighbors, go up to them and shake their hands, and let them know, ‘Hey do you mind if our kids pop off fireworks tonight in the driveway, or something like that, across the street,” Bergeron explained. “Just be mindful and respectful of the neighbors who are veterans, and celebrate our nation’s independence.”

For additional resources from the National Center for PTSD, click here.

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