Fireworks send some local war veterans with PTSD right back to the front lines

"You just don't forget," retired veteran says

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Thousands of south Floridians will flock to fireworks displays on the Fourth of July, but some local war veterans will not be among the crowd, even though they wish they could.

They served and now some of them suffer.

"I'm always on edge. I'm nervous," said Retired Army Sgt. James Roberts, who is among returning veterans who endures post-traumatic stress disorder. The sights and sounds of Independence Day, he says, can be unbearable.

James served two tours in Iraq. His patrol team, he says, became the target of a roadside bomb. He often tries to describe to those without PTSD what the disorder feels like.

"It's like having a constant shot of electricity continuously running through your body," he said.

Since returning from combat, Roberts has spent each Fourth of July alone at his Lake Worth home.

Elizabeth Bosarge, PTSD Program Coordinator at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach, says fireworks can trigger flashbacks -- sending some veterans right back to the front lines.

"The person actually feels and believes as if they are back in that original experience even if it was 30, 40, 50 years ago," said Bosarge.

Tom Corey says he will always remember his army days in Vietnam.

"You just don't forget," Corey said.

The retired service member especially remembers the day in 1968 when he says an enemy sniper shot him through the neck and spinal cord.

"That ended my military career," he said.

The incident also began Corey's life in a wheelchair and with PTSD. He says he has avoided fireworks displays ever since.

"It still stops my heart for a second," said Corey. "The noise is so familiar as the things in combat. Mortars and gunshots and automatic weapon fire."

Corey says that he wishes he could be a part of the festivities that so many others enjoy each July.

"To not participate, it's hard, because you want to be there," he said.

Bosarge says the public can help these PTSD sufferers by not setting off fireworks through the entire night of July 4, or on multiple nights.

The unexpectedness of the sounds can contribute to PTSD symptoms escalating, Bosarge said.

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