LUBBOCK, Texas — Flashes of light, loud noises, and the smell of gunpowder can all be found at a firework show, but they can also be triggers for veterans with PTSD.
Les Beaty is a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s not something that you ever get over, PTSD — you learn to live with it,” Beaty said.
Meaning the 4th of July, with all the flashes and bangs of fireworks, can be a difficult time.
“I mostly dread it because of all the fireworks and everything. I love the camaraderie and all the events that go on and I try to keep myself busy through the 4th of July,” Beaty said. “At nighttime when the fireworks start, I stay up to 2 to 3 o’clock in the morning on the 4th of July watching the fireworks.”
Benny Guerrero, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said PTSD can be common among veterans.
“We do enjoy the 4th of July because we are some of the recipients or bringers of freedom so we want to participate, but that’s when some of our veterans have a hard time coping with that and that’s when some of the triggers happen,” Guerrero said.
Particularly late at night on the holiday, can be a more triggering time.
“When we are in the safety of our home and we are relaxed and asleep and that firework goes off you wake up thinking that you are like in the thick of things,” Guerrero said. “Those are the things that trigger people into thinking they are back at war.”
Beaty attributes this to his heightened vigilance.
“When you are a PTSD guy, you are running along at about 80, and everybody else runs along at about 40,” Beaty said. “When something happens, you go up to 160 while they come to about 70 or 80.”
According to Guerrero, many vets seek out someone to talk to after the 4th of July. However, this year that has become more difficult.
“COVID-19 has really made it hard to coalesce and to communicate and to be around our band of brothers and sisters,” Guerrero said.
But both Beaty and Guerrero said that reaching out to veterans can go a long way.
“One of the things that cures PTSD is friendship and we all have PhDs in friendship,” Guerrero said.
Both advise that if you know of veterans in your neighborhood to check in with them before setting off any fireworks. And if you are going to set off fireworks, do it earlier in the night to help veterans avoid stress.