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Unexpected Fireworks Leave Some Veterans On Edge

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released new data Wednesday, June 22, 2011 that shows during the 30 days surrounding July 4, 2010 Sparklers, bottle rockets and small firecrackers sent about 1,900 injured consumers to emergency rooms. CPSC's statistics show that in 2010 about 8,600 consumers ended up in hospital emergency rooms due to injuries involving legal and illegal fireworks.
Veterans with PTSD can become overwhelmed by the unexpected explosions of fireworks surrounding July Fourth. Military with PTSD, a nonprofit, is working to educate citizens to be considerate of neighboring veterans during holiday celebrations. Photo by CNN

The days leading up to and after July Fourth can be frightening for some veterans.

Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can become overwhelmed by the sound of fireworks, especially when they’re unprepared for them on days surrounding the holiday.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, about 8 million adults suffer from PTSD during a given year.

When Albert Linden, a 77-year-old Vietnam War veteran living in Gainesville, hears the crack of fireworks over his home, he jumps. For a second, he sees himself back in combat.

“I can sit there in the middle of fireworks, and it won’t bother me,” he said. “But it’s the unexpected bang that gets you. You don’t know where it’s coming from. Having been in a combat situation, people shooting at you, you are always looking around. That doesn’t go away.”

Ten years ago Linden said he’d hide under the bed every time a bang went off around the holiday. While it’s still difficult today, he’s learned to control his reaction.

When fireworks go off, veterans with PTSD often associate the sound with the need to take action for survival, according to Kathleen Gierhart, a licensed medical health counselor in Gainesville.

“When those sounds go off, the mind is no longer in the present moment but responding as though still in the past,” she said.

According to the VA, veterans may experience nightmares, flashbacks and triggers from sight, smell or sound.

Trauma from combat doesn’t always leave an individual, said Bob Gasche, a 90-year-old marine veteran who served at Iwo Jima and lives in Gainesville.

He said anything that can trigger an emotion of that level should always be under consideration when it comes to holidays like the Fourth of July.

Some veterans are trying to raise awareness of the problems fireworks can cause by posting signs outside their homes stating: “Combat veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks.”

Military With PTSD, a nonprofit organization, began the Explosion of Kindness campaign to educate citizens about the effects of fireworks on veterans and others with PTSD.

The campaign doesn’t ask people to stop using fireworks in celebrations. Instead, it urges them to be considerate by giving nearby veterans advance notice if fireworks are going to be lit before or after the Fourth of July, according to its website.

Linden said if residents of Gainesville see these signs, they should respect them.

“They need to think twice before they just throw firecrackers around,” he said. “It’s something everyone should be aware of.”

About Heather Reinblatt

Heather is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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