Holiday fireworks and gunshots are a real danger for combat veterans

Now with the Fourth of July looming near (or any other holiday involving fireworks), I need to bring this issue up once again.

Something so pretty shouldn’t be deadly! Image credit: growabrain.typepad.com

I love a good fireworks show, I really do.  But I haven’t seen one in years for a very special reason.

Last month I posted a casual plea via Facebook titled, “Fireworks and gunshots this holiday season are doing more harm than good!” thus asking people to understand one thing:  Fireworks and gunshots during the holiday are upsetting to the very combat vets they were giving honor to.

In short, most people don’t realize that it’s not a temporary “startle” but a full-blown PTSD trigger that can last for days or weeks.  My husband happens to be one of them.

Any sudden and unexpected noise will put a combat veteran’s mind straight into the battlefield.  It could be something as simple as dropping a glass in the kitchen, a car backfiring down the street, distant gunshots, or random fireworks found in neighborhoods across the country.  Just the smell of the gunpowder can trigger a PTSD episode.

Their brains cannot logically understand there is no threat.  Add in more issues like a traumatic brain injury (such as the case of my husband) and the brain will “misfire” the information even more.

This is not the first time this issue has been brought to the public to create awareness.  Here is a story that came out in 2008 in the The Grand Rapids Press:

Fireworks can upset veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder

My analytics show that for the last few days, combat veterans are searching the internet for this topic: “I’m a combat vet and I hate fireworks” – this is a real struggle for vets in every community.

Instead of putting out a casual plea to pass the information along among my circle of friends via social media, today I am going to offer real-life advice to my readers.  I hope to bring awareness to EVERYONE in every community and offer coping techniques for those who suffer from PTSD.

My advice for civilians:

Please let the city manage the fireworks this year! I (and many others in our shoes) do not begrudge those who celebrate during the holidays by using fireworks, but there is a time and a place for such activities.  A combat vet will know to expect the fireworks at a particular time and place in their community.  Knowing this means the world to them, as they can be far from the source at the exact time it is expected to happen.  When you go out into your street and shoot a variety of fireworks, this is unexpected and intrusive to your neighbors, particularly people like the Vietnam veteran down the street, or the Gulf War veteran next door.  Not everyone is in the mood to celebrate YOUR way.  Please leave the fireworks to the professionals!

If your neighbors are ignoring local bans on fireworks, report them to the police. If your HOA restricts the use of fireworks or there is a local ordinance restricting the use of fireworks, hold your community accountable!

In many communities, it’s against the law to discharge fireworks.  Call your local authorities to find out what, if any, restrictions there may be in your area.  Not only is it a nuisance, but it is also a fire hazard.  Take these rules and regulations seriously!

Our community is riddled with uncontrolled fires.  People are losing their homes and thousands of acres are burned needlessly.  Please remember that fireworks are a fire hazard if not controlled or monitored professionally.

My advice for combat vets:

Seek the company of someone who understands the issue.    This could be your spouse, a neighbor, another veteran, or friend.  Anyone who can be with you during the holiday who can offer comfort by gentle touch or verbal reassurance will help set your mind at better ease.

Go someplace far from the urban environment.    My suggestion is to go camping at a National Park or National Forest where there is a ban on fireworks.

Ask your neighbors to be aware of the issue.   People who know better, do better.  If they insist on having their own fireworks show despite local restrictions, report them to the police.

Please don’t self medicate!   Drinking only adds to the issue, and taking extra medication is not safe.  Accidental overdoses of medication are common.  Mixing alcohol with medications can turn deadly very quickly.  Instead, go buy some sound-barrier headphones and retreat to an internal room of your house if you have to “block” it out of your mind.

If you have additional coping techniques that you would like to share in this post, I’d love to hear them!  PLEASE pass this along to everyone.  It could very well save a life this holiday season.

If you are interested in viewing the perspective of this issue from other blogs or national news outlets, here are a few examples of how much of an impact fireworks have on veterans across the nation, which were published after I wrote about it here. This topic is finally getting some of the attention it deserves:

Personal account from a combat veteran caregiver in Florida

Brittney is a female combat veteran who later became a caretaker for her veteran husband. In this post she talks about the impact of fireworks for the both of them, and shares info and resources to help with PTSD symptoms

An excellent article based on personal experience from a combat veteran and his wife, Karen

Another caregiver named Brittney talks about how the 4th of July has evolved for her and her family over the years, and how her combat-injured husband found solace with a Vietnam Vet during a bad fireworks episode. She offers great advice on what NOT to do if you see a veteran struggling during a fireworks display

NBC News – Independence Day Irony: PTSD has many vets dreading, avoiding fireworks

Army Times – Even without PTSD, not all vets enjoy fireworks

If this topic affects you, I’d love to share your experiences here to help spread awareness of this issue. You can leave a comment below, or email me a link to your own blog post to be featured here. Feel free to share it with your family, friends, neighbors and communities so we can help defray the trauma to our combat vets each holiday season!

Please take a moment to share via Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites linked below. Your help in spreading the word is sincerely appreciated!

About The Author

Torrey Shannon

My name is Torrey Shannon and I am a writer, author, blogger, movie consultant, speaker, veteran's advocate and Blue Star Mom. I am also a full-time caregiver and spouse of a wounded warrior. My husband survived a gunshot wound to the head in a gunfight in Iraq in 2004 after serving in the Army for more than 23 years. We spent three years of his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has severe PTSD and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Dealing with the invisible wounds of war first-hand allows me to bring a human element to the problems our military communities face. Blogging gives me the chance to do what I love the most: write about life after combat and help create awareness and solutions for military members and their families. When I am not writing here, I freelance for a variety of publications and media outlets and am currently writing a book.