ROME, Ga. (AP) — Fourth of July can be a challenging holiday for veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome because of the loud fireworks, mental health experts say.
It's an ironic situation, since citizens wouldn't be celebrating the freedom that's so much a part of the Fourth of July holiday without the contributions made by veterans, said Jamie Lee Jacobs of the Counseling Cottage in Rome. Yet some veterans can't enjoy it because of PTSD, she said.
Jacobs has worked with veterans and their families since 2001, The Rome News-Tribune reported.
Fireworks can be a special trigger for veterans exposed to improvised explosive devices during fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.
"You're always on high alert waiting for something to explode. Just the anticipation of waiting for the fireworks can trigger them because they were hyper-vigilant waiting for something to go off when it didn't," Jacobs said.
Vietnam War veteran Barry Hunter says loud noises can be difficult.
"We want to honor our country as best as we can because we fought for it," Vietnam War veteran Barry Hunter told the Rome newspaper. But "loud noises can bring bad memories, especially for those in artillery or where artillery was landing," he said.
Veterans' reactions depend on the severity of their PTSD, but for those with a more severe diagnosis, simply hearing or smelling something could be too much stimulus, Jacobs said.
"They'll feel like they're fine and enjoying themselves. Then all of a sudden it feels like they're dissociating and having a huge panic attack," she said.
"If they're in a large crowd they want to get away from them as fast as possible and just isolate," she added. "They feel kind of out of control and chaotic."
It helps if veterans with spouses are open about their PTSD and develop a plan where symptoms can be detected.
"If they just sit and talk about a proactive, preventative plan, then that'll give your partner permission to say 'I notice you're looking a little irritable. Do we need take a break and walk away from this crowd or are you feeling so overwhelmed that we just need to go home,'" Jacobs said.
For veterans without family support, Jacobs said it's important for them to overcome the stigma of counseling and seek help.
"It helps them process what some of their triggers are," she said. "Then they can take care of them immediately rather than ignoring them."