PHOENIX — It is the unintended consequence of Fourth of July fireworks. The loud bangs and booms that light up the night sky in celebration of our independence can also trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms for the same men and women who fought on the front lines to defend that freedom.
The sound of fireworks can resemble sounds from the war zone, reminding veterans of hand grenades, improvised explosive devices, artillery, and gunfire.
"For me, I more so just remembered a lot of things from my time in service. I probably went into some isolation. I kept a lot of things to myself at first," said Marine Sergeant Chuck Hale, who served in Mogadishu, Somalia from 1991-1998.
Hale said he did not recognize that he had PTSD when he returned.
"It took me a long time to admit to myself, some of the things I experienced, it really affected me," he explained.
While he stressed that every day could be a challenge for veterans living with PTSD, the 4th of July was especially tough. Hale described some of his reactions to fireworks after his service.
"Anxiety, stress, massive amounts of starting to become hyper-vigilant of your surroundings," said Hale.
Other veterans describe putting on headphones with loud music to block out the sounds, and one veteran said the first time he heard fireworks he was startled and jumped into a combat position right in his living room.
"These unexpected noises, again unexpected being the key word there, can really trigger things for them," said Army Captain Sam Crump who served as a JAG corp. attorney in the 2nd Armored division in Germany.
Crump said he saw many friends come back from war disfigured, or permanently scarred. Those scars may not always be visible.
Veterans said they were not asking Americans to stop celebrating on this Independence Day; all they were asking was for people to be considerate of their neighbors.
"If a family is aware they live near a combat veteran just try to be sensitive to that. Maybe ask them if that is something that bothers them," said Crump.
"If you know there's a veteran in your neighborhood, don't be shooting bottle rockets down your street before going to him first and saying hey, do you mind if we do this, especially if you know," added Hale.
Both men said that professional fireworks were something veterans who suffered from PTSD could plan for, it was the unexpected booms and bangs happening all through the night that really took a toll on those living with PTSD.
If you are a veteran or know of one who is in crisis there is a 24-hour hotline you can call not just tonight, but any time of the year. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) then press one to reach the veteran's crisis line.
Here is some more information about PTSD as posted by the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/family/support_family_friends.asp