Thursday, July 1, 2021

A quiet celebration

U.S. veterans could experience trauma during holiday fireworks displays

Everyone doesn't enjoy the traditional fireworks displays that usually accompany Fourth of July celebrations throughout the area.

As Americans prepare for barbecues and fireworks on Sunday, it's also important to remember that some veterans might be uncomfortable in large crowds or have a difficult time around loud noises, especially the explosive sounds that accompany blasting fireworks. 

Representatives from Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit organization nationally recognized for decades of experience and leadership in building comprehensive programs and resources for low-income, homeless, and at-risk veterans, reminded everyone to be supportive of veterans during Fourth of July activities.

Not all veterans who are exposed to combat or other traumatic military experiences are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but many are and undiagnosed effects of the stress of military service is considerable, experts said. Approximately 30 percent of Vietnam War Veterans experience PTSD over the course of their lifetimes, and approximately one in five service members who have returned from deployment operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have symptoms of PTSD.

Because Fourth of July fireworks displays can sound like explosions or gunfire, and these sounds might remind some veterans of traumatic experiences, many will choose to avoid them. Those subjected to them may revisit the trauma they experienced during wartime.

Some veterans may want to avoid public events at other times, even if fireworks are not involved. Research has found that for some veterans, emotional gatherings with patriotic symbols can be a risk for worsening or recurrence of PTSD symptoms.

Others may want to avoid watching the news if it focuses on stories about war. Repeated exposure has been found to be a risk for developing PTSD or worsening of PTSD symptoms, particularly for those veterans who are following the news closely and viewing coverage that is reminiscent of their own experiences. 

Hyperarousal, difficulties sleeping or concentrating, a startle response, or avoiding sitting with a back to a door or window may also be due to cumulative trauma. These responses may also correspond to the actual traumatic events if  the trauma occurred.

PTSD has a relationship with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic pain as part of what is referred to as “the polytrauma clinical triad.” TBI symptoms such as sleep problems, trouble with memory and concentration, depression, anxiety, and irritability may overlap with those of PTSD. 

To help our nation's veterans, it's important for caregivers, supporters, and advocates to be well-educated on how to assist them, experts advised. Developed by Swords to Plowshares and funded in partnership with the Walmart Foundation, is unique in that it blends written content with podcast audio and video conversations with real veterans and advocates. Information about PTSD, community-based care, veterans benefits, and much more is available.

The general public should attempt to be considerate of neighbors and let them know if fireworks are planned in the area which could affect a veteran. “Write a note, let them know,” experts advised.  “These veterans deserve your consideration and respect for the effects they have suffered to defend the freedoms you are celebrating.”