Use caution: fireworks can trigger PTSD for vets

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - While many of you will be enjoying fireworks to celebrate our nation’s independence, many who fought to maintain and protect our sovereignty ask that you are mindful when using them. The loud noises and bright lights can trigger a post-traumatic stress disorder reaction.

Christopher Rivera, 27, spent 11 months in Iraq in 2011 with the Army looking for roadside bombs.

“In the middle of the night, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the morning, that’s what we were looking for was explosives. So, when you hear things going boom, it could easily take anyone back.  Easily,” said Rivera.

He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015.

“I was walking my dog last night and somebody was shooting mortars in my neighborhood so we went back inside because my dog doesn’t like them either,” said Rivera. 

For some veterans, like him, if they can anticipate a boom, they’ll be OK.

“If it’s sudden, most times you’re going to go back to doing what you know how to do, and your first instinct is to get away from whatever it is, said Rivera.

Everyone’s experience with PTSD is different. 

Dr. Elizabeth Bosarge, PTSD program manager at the VA in West Palm Beach, says if you have fireworks, use them on the July Fourth only.  However, before or after July 4 can be especially dangerous.

“That makes it even more challenging because those are times when they’re not expecting it, so it’s harder for them to prepare and harder for them to cope,” said Bosarge. 

Rivera doesn’t look for roadside bombs anymore. He works at the VA as a medical support assistant, and that's where he’ll be on the Fourth of July. He carries experience protecting our country, and that survival instinct.

“If you know that there’s a combat veteran in your neighborhood, go and talk to him and say, 'Hey, do you mind,' or, 'What would be a good time?' something to help them out because they still are going through certain things in their mind,” said Rivera. 

The 24/7 crisis hotline for vets: 800-273-8255 (TALK).

On Saturday, July 25 in Bryant Park, VFW Post 9610 is hosting the inaugural Spartan Pledge Day got suicide prevention awareness. It’s from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free to the public.

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