This column is linked from the goodhousekeeping.com website and the story is linked HERE
Vets Are Posting Signs Asking Neighbors to Be Mindful of Fireworks
For many, the big booms bring back traumatic combat experiences.
Every Fourth of July, millions of Americans gather to cook out, hang out, and watch fireworks light up the sky. But for some U.S. veterans, these pyrotechnics can have frightening consequences. The big booms or other loud noises could trigger any lingering post-tramautic stress disorder and memories of previous combat experiences — like gunfire or explosions.
PTSD affects an estimated 11% to 20% of military members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan each year, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. PTSD symptoms include traumatic flashbacks, bad dreams, intense guilt, depression, out-of-body experiences, and outbursts of anger.
Knowing how loud Independence Day celebrations can get, an organization called Military with PTSD is giving away signs to spread awareness — and hopefully help sufferers avoid difficult situations during the long weekend.
The sign campaign is led by Shawn Gourley, whose husband returned from three U.S. Navy deployments a changed man. The Indiana couple struggled for five years before he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009. To connect with other veterans and their spouses, she started a Facebook group (and later, a non-profit) called Military with PTSD.
“What got me the most was no one told me what could happen, and I didn’t want to see another spouse go through that,” Gourley told CNN. “If we can start talking about (PTSD) and help each other prepare, maybe they won’t make the same mistakes I did.”
A year ago, one of the group members posted an image of his sign, which asked neighbors to be courteous with fireworks because of his PTSD. Inspired, Gourley ordered similar signs to donate to veterans. Her first 1,000 were gone almost immediately. So far, Military with PTSD has sent 2,500 signs at no cost to the recipient, and the waiting listhas more than 3,000 names on it.
The signs don’t mean that veterans’ neighbors shouldn’t use fireworks: “I think people wonder how you can be courteous with fireworks. It’s not like you can make them quieter,” Gourley said. “No veteran that served the United States wants to take a freedom away from people, especially fireworks, which represent freedom. They don’t want them to stop. What they’re asking for is for people to give them a heads up.”
Many veterans with PTSD prepare for loud noises on July 4 specifically, but becausesurprising loud noises are the most disturbing, random fireworks at other times during the holiday weekend can be a major trigger. Gourley says they shouldn’t have to hide or spend weeks on edge to avoid the sound of explosions.
The organization’s Facebook page includes testimonies from veterans (and other first-responders) about the effects of sudden fireworks. One woman said small pops on her street make her go from jumpy to grabbing a gun and running outside in fear. And a New York police officer who served on 9/11 described staying indoors during the holiday and constantly wearing headphones.
But the signs are also helping veterans connect: One man told Gourley that when his neighbor warned him about the upcoming fireworks, he also was invited to come watch the show. He’s happily planning to attend.
“What I took from that is that, wow, he has this connection that he hasn’t felt since he’s come home,” Gourley said to CNN. “It makes him want to get involved and he doesn’t feel the need to isolate, which I think is amazing.”