RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Fireworks are known as the main attraction on the Fourth of July but for many veterans with PTSD, what is meant to be a symbol of celebration and freedom can bring back terrible memories.
“They may have a flashback, meaning that they’re taken right back to the moment when they experienced that trauma, and when that happens they may not realize where they are,” said Erika Lawhorn from the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.
Lawhorn said the loud sound of fireworks can be triggering to veterans, even sending them into a state of “fight or flight.”
The organization Military with PTSD offers free signs for veterans to put in their yards, which notifies neighbors about their sensitivity to fireworks.
However, Lawhorn said many veterans may not want to talk about their PTSD.
“I would caution neighbors, just because you don’t see a sign doesn’t mean a veteran is not there,” Lawhorn said.
She said fireworks can be even more triggering when they are not expected.
“We have our big venues around the city that set off fireworks, but it’s your neighbors door-to-door that you don’t expect setting off fireworks that go off all of a sudden,” said Lawhorn.
For veterans with PTSD, she suggests letting them know about your plans.
“If you know there’s a veteran in your area, it’s as simple as knocking on their door and saying, ‘Hey, we’re planning on setting off some fireworks this evening. Just wanted to give you a heads up.’ A little bit of heads up can go a long way,” Lawhorn said.
In addition to veterans with PTSD, other groups may also experience stress from fireworks. People with Autism, people with PTSD not related to military combat and animals that are sensitive to noise can all be affected.