Fourth of July fireworks an issue for some veterans with PTSD

Posted at 10:23 PM, Jul 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-04 00:23:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- While thousands of Utahns are excited to enjoy Independence Day, some of the men and women who fought for our freedom suffer through the holiday because of fireworks.

Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Salt Lake City said that after the Fourth of July, they see a spike in veterans seeking counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They're constantly on edge because the fireworks remind of combat exposure and combat experiences," Dr. Steven Allen said.

Of the roughly 2.5 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, research shows between 7 and 20 percent develop PTSD. Dr. Allen said that when fireworks ignite, some vets go to the mountains to get away from the loud concussions.

"Folks are on edge, they have a hard time relaxing particularly here in Utah with the 4th and the 24th, they have a hard time sleeping because there's fireworks often late at night that make them think they're under attack," Dr. Allen said.

Brent Duncan served a year in Afghanistan. He doesn't experience PTSD himself but counsels those who do.

"My suggestion is often instead of avoiding the fireworks to actually watch the fireworks,” he said. “It's easier to deal with instead of sitting in their house hunkering down. That helps some, it doesn't work for others.”

Earlier this week, Iraq veteran Jon Dykes posted a sign in his yard, announcing himself as a combat veteran and asking neighbors to be courteous with fireworks. The photo was shared at least 100,000 times on Facebook in less than 24 hours.

"I think it's a good idea,” Dr. Allen said. “Veterans are likely to not want to say that themselves but other people will, and it's been an issue year after year for many of the veterans I've worked with."

Dykes also wrote on the website Military with PTSD, "America celebrates our independence on the 4th of July. Not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th of July. Some fireworks are expected, and that`s okay. I understand. But, not 24 hours a day."

Dr. Allen said: "When people who have been in combat can expect noises they do much better than when they're unexpected, like in the middle of the night."

Allen advises residents to get to know their community and said if a neighbor was recently deployed or is a veteran it’s a good idea to give them a heads-up if you’re going to light fireworks near their home. He also said people should be courteous.