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Fourth of July fireworks can be a trigger for veterans with PTSD: 'Do it in a respectful way'

PTSD impacts around 3-to-4% of our population. Veterans suffer at a higher rate because of their exposure to trauma, according to the Boise VA Medical Center.

BOISE, Idaho — Fireworks, the red, white and blue and spending time with loved ones are just some of the things that symbolize the Fourth of July, but for some, the sound of fireworks can trigger unpleasant memories. 

“It does affect us, it affects a lot of people,” Dan Pugmire said.

Pugmire served in the United States Air Force. He's all too familiar with how the sound of fireworks can transport him back to his time overseas. Last year, a firework exploded in his yard while he was sleeping. 

“That explosion triggered a crazy, crazy episode," Pugmire said. "I got in my car, took off and there was nowhere to get away from the fireworks."

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Mark Heyne, the Chief of Psychology at the Boise VA Medical Center, said Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder impacts around 3-to-4% of our population. Veterans suffer at a higher rate because of their exposure to trauma, some of which is combat-related trauma.

“Veterans will certainly tell you that certain environmental cues are what are referred to as triggers for some of their post-traumatic stress symptoms,” Heyne said. “So, that can be a certain environment. That can be a certain type of sound, like loud bangs. That can be a certain smell - a lot of veterans will talk about burning rubber. It can be a certain type of traffic pattern, lots of veterans’ struggle with roundabouts, because there's lots of roundabouts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Heyne also said if you know a veteran who lives near you, the best thing to do this Fourth of July weekend is be predictable and let them know what time you plan on setting off fireworks.

“Having said that, there's a lot of vets who struggle with fourth of July, but they really choose to kind of be present for it, because they feel like it helps them to better become habituated to the festivities and it allows them to enjoy it a little bit more each year as they become more comfortable doing it,” Heyne said.  

As for Pugmire, he's not discouraging anyone from celebrating, he's just encouraging the community to be considerate.

“This is a very important day for us, you know," Pugmire said. "This is when the United States got its independence and be mindful of that. There's a lot of people who lost their lives for their freedom. Enjoy themselves, have a good time, have barbecue, and shoot your fireworks off, but do it in a respectful way."

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