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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Reynolds

Why Fireworks on July 4th Aren’t for Everyone

There are lots of reasons to leave fireworks displays to the professionals. Beyond the risk of personal injury and fire, many veterans and their families have come to dread July 4th. As our nation celebrates its independence, many of our nation’s veterans will become prisoners in their own homes as they seek refuge from sounds, sights and smells that can trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Here’s what one military spouse posted on Facebook:

“Well, we’ve finally made it to what has now become one of the most predictably dreaded weeks of the year in our home…. the week including the 4th of July. A day that we used to enjoy celebrating our country’s freedom, it’s independence, has ironically become a tremendous source of added mental anguish for my husband, and for many other Veterans, the very people who have fought the hardest for our freedoms. Last year’s FOUR days in a row of explosions (YES, I said four days…. and we are not referring to sparklers here my friends, but the BIG ones) in our neighborhood started my hubby on a PTSD downhill spiral that wound him up in an inpatient lockdown facility a few days later…. absolutely NOT okay! I vowed after last year that if I had to temporarily move him to a hotel in the middle of a city where fireworks were not allowed, I would do it, because it was like torture for him. It was so hard watching him try to maintain his calm and use all his coping skills (and meds of course) and still continue to get worse and worse each day. He also re-injured himself physically twice that week, when he hit the ground “diving for cover” (automatic response). For those of you who are struggling with this in your homes also, or just looking for understanding as to why this is so bad for many of these Vets, I wanted to share with you what he was able to tell me on the first night of the fireworks last year (when he could still communicate a bit)…. I think it was profound and I really appreciated him letting me in for better understanding. He said, “I can sit here and tell myself all night long that those explosions out there are not a danger to us and that I am NOT in Iraq right now …. I understand that intellectually…. that they are JUST fireworks…. BUT that doesn’t stop this awful FEELING inside me that IF I don’t go out there and try to do something about it, that people ARE going to die!” I’m not sure that every Vet would say it the same way, but I’m guessing many might. I am really glad that this year we live in a state where fireworks (used by the general public) are mostly banned, not that I think a few people around me won’t try it, so hopefully that will narrow down the activity considerably, and we will make it through without the level of agony we experienced last year. I think (or hope) it would help if the general public were better informed about how badly this affects many Veterans, so that they may choose different options for celebrating the 4th. Please pass this around so we can make people aware, who otherwise may not have any way to understand.”

PTSD is actually pretty common in the general population and experiencing trauma isn’t rare. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury. Chronic poverty and community violence can fuel PTSD in children and families. Among civilians:

  1. About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

  2. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.

  3. About 10 of every 100 (or 10%) of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 (or 4%) of men.

Increasingly, those who have experienced direct or vicarious trauma because of mass shootings or other acts of gun violence are among those most at risk given the loud bangs and flashes associated with fireworks. School-age children are at even higher risk than their adult counterparts.

Military service comes with an added – and often compounded – set of risks for PTSD. According to the Veterans Administration, PTSD varies by service era:

  1. Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.

  2. Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.

  3. Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National

  4. Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Lots of folks in our community are struggling with trauma and PTSD. Making sure that everyone can enjoy our annual national celebration of our freedoms – especially those who fought for those freedoms. It seems like the very least we can do.

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