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The Irony of Fireworks and Freedom While Living With PTSD on July 4th

July 4th, a celebration of America’s freedom with cookouts and fireworks can bring flashbacks of war for veterans with PTSD.
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The day of celebration for the United States of America’s independence, July 4, has arrived and many will be enjoying cookouts and gatherings; heading out to catch a spectacular fireworks show, and just be merry. But there will be a group of individuals that will be cautiously partaking in the festivities or not participating at all – and they’re veterans.

In a bit of irony, the day in celebration of America’s freedom can bring back visions of wars long past for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Wendy Katz, of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, treats many Veterans with PTSD who dread the Fourth. “The flash of light, firecrackers, can sound to them like mortar attacks,” Katz said via “I worked with one veteran who took cover with his young son at this kind of celebration. It’s very complicated for them since it’s supposed to be the birthday of freedom.”

“It’s upsetting to most Veterans with PTSD. It’s something they try to avoid,” said Dr. Jeffrey Fine, Director of the PTSD program at VANYHHS via Dr. Fine said the reaction “can range from a startle to a full-blown anxiety attack and flashback of combat.” That’s why, he explained, many veterans keep noise-canceling headphones on hand. Over the years, “some Veterans have acclimatized and have learned how to successfully minimize their reaction to fireworks, TV and sudden noises.”

Even if veterans are being treated for PTSD through a variety of means, whether it be the VA, Indian Health Service or a more traditional route that does not require medication, the day can generate nightmares.

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As points out too, oftentimes veterans who have a reaction are left feeling embarrassed by their reactions in front of family and friends.

The site however states that having family and friends around you can help ease the anxiety. A support system that understands what a veteran is going through, or could go through, with PTSD makes having a plan for such episodes possible and can limit any further anxiety or attack.

According to the National Center for PTSD, some veterans tend to avoid the holiday’s festivities all together, opting to stay home and away from anything that could trigger flashbacks.

So, as many get ready to watch fireworks, or let them off, be aware of your surroundings as there may just be a veteran suffering from PTSD trying not to relive his past on his country’s birthday.