Unexpected fireworks can stress veterans with PTSD

Posted at 5:08 PM, Jul 03, 2018

While fireworks can elicit joy and wonder for families, it can be a traumatizing surprise for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.

As you travel around your community on the Fourth of July, you may notice a few signs in front yards asking neighbors to be courteous with firework use because a combat veteran lives in the home. 

The Associated Press reported that anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars were diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Not all veterans are triggered by the sound of fireworks, but Cindy Ramminger, coordinator of the PTSD clinical team at Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, said it has become a more common occurrence, according to the Associated Press. 

"It can remind them of what might sound like an incoming rocket or mortars or gunfire, which can cause them to get on alert and it can cause them to be frightened," Ramminger said. "It can push them into a flashback (and) can cause intrusive thoughts, so they'll start remembering a traumatic event like when they got blown up in an IED attack or lost a friend to some kind of explosion."

Shawn Gourley, the co-founder of Military with PTSD, said the signs have helped veterans start discussions with neighbors and can make a big difference if a community member tells the veteran when and where to expect fireworks. She said the goal isn't to encourage people to stop using fireworks on the holiday, but rather to give the veteran a heads up. Unexpected fireworks — and the accompanying loud bangs and bright lights — can cause stress, she said. 

The National Center for PTSD reports that about 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year.

Fireworks are illegal in many communities across Colorado, including Denver, and can pose a serious fire threat. Firecrackers, rockets (including bottle rockets), roman candles, cherry bombs, mortars and similar items like M-80s are illegal in Colorado. Some communities allow fountain fireworks, ground spinners, illuminating torches, dipped sticks, sparklers, toy propellants, trick noise makers and tube devices, but municipalities may further restrict the types of fireworks that can be sold or used within their boundaries, so check with your city or town before using them. Click here for a list of public firework shows across the state.