For millions of Americans, the 4th of July is a day of celebration that includes picnics with family, a day out on the water, and a spectacular fireworks show as soon as the sun goes down. While many people are firm in their annual plans to celebrate our country’s independence, it’s important to remember that for some, it’s a day that can trigger harmful symptoms related to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many veterans have become accustomed to the various celebrations that take place on this date, but for those that suffer with PTSD, loud fireworks and big groups of people can be torturous. It’s important to understand the triggers for veterans who live in your area and reach out to them ahead of time to let them know about your plans. 


Here are some more compassionate ways you can help veterans have fun on the 4th. 


Be courteous


Talk to the people in your neighborhood about how to stay courteous to local veterans, especially when it comes to fireworks. One way to help is to set a cutoff time for any loud festivities and pay a visit to the vets in your community to let them know what your plans are. 


Educate yourself


Do some research on PTSD and its effects to learn more about the triggers that can occur on holidays like Independence Day. For those who suffer from this disorder, it’s nearly impossible to control some reactions when they are confronted with loud noises, crowds, or sights and smells that remind them of a certain period of their lives. Doing what you can to eliminate those stressful moments can show the veterans in your community that you care about their well-being. While not every veteran will react to fireworks in a negative way, there’s always the possibility that the sudden noise will set off a violent reaction or flashback.


“I think people wonder how you can be courteous with fireworks. It’s not like you can make them quieter. No veteran that served the United States wants to take a freedom away from people, especially [celebrating with] 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,” says Shawn Gourley, who created special signs for veterans to display on their lawns to let people know they might have an issue with fireworks.


Understand the potential problems


If you have a veteran in your life who battles PTSD, you might be aware that the disorder can come with an array of other issues, such as substance abuse. The triggers that often occur on Independence Day may lead to problems for a person in addiction recovery, especially when they are already suffering from anxiety or depression, so consider offering a safe place for the veteran in your life to stay during the festivities. Plan out fun activities, such as a movie night, a picnic in the backyard, or a quiet evening at a minimally-populated area. Many vets have no problem with fireworks if they feel they are in a safe, comfortable place.


Remember that no two veterans will have the same reaction to 4th of July festivities, so it’s important to have a conversation with the vet in your life about how they feel. Ask what would make them feel the most comfortable, and if possible, include their family members in your plans. Keep communication open with everyone in your community, and let them know that while there’s no need to censor their fun, it would be respectful to be courteous to others in the area.

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