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Phoenix VA shares how fireworks can lead to anxiety, stress for Valley veterans

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 22:31:23-04

PHOENIX — Fireworks celebrations are a cause for just that, celebrating, but many military veterans are preparing for potential PTSD episodes.

The loud boom, flashing lights, even the smell of fireworks can mentally land a veteran back on the battlefield.

"Smell serves as a pretty powerful trigger for memories and part of that is because it’s located just proximity-wise to the hippocampus, the memory center for the brain," said Kris Kratz, Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health for Veterans Affairs in Phoenix. "Might spawn memories that can be uncomfortable."

PTSD is personal, and every former soldier fights his or her own battle. Although not every veteran experiences PTSD from fireworks, the body's response could be severe for some veterans.

"In severe cases, they’ll hit the deck like they’re back in Vietnam or the Gulf. Others will crawl under the covers," said Dr. Carl Forkner, Navy Veteran and Research Psychologist. "Let the veteran know that there’s fireworks going on and about when it’s gonna happen. So that way the veteran can mentally prepare themself, for the fact that there are going to be loud noises."

For Forkner, on nights when he knows the fireworks will be booming, he keeps the room dark, covers his ears and has even left the city to avoid hearing the booms of fireworks.

"[I] muffle any loud sounds so I don't have something that sounds like a gunshot or artillery fire that wakes me up startled."

Forkner adds that many times it's not the planned fireworks show that causes triggers, since the veteran is usually prepared for the sounds, but instead it's the random, closer-to-home fireworks set off in smaller neighborhoods that can cause a PTSD episode.