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Watch your fire: Fourth of July celebrations can spark stress in vets

Fireworks may be enjoyable for some, but for those who fought for our country, it can be a tough time of year. (Source: KFDA) Fireworks may be enjoyable for some, but for those who fought for our country, it can be a tough time of year. (Source: KFDA)
Signs like this ask neighbors to be courteous of fireworks around veterans. (Source: Military with PTSD) Signs like this ask neighbors to be courteous of fireworks around veterans. (Source: Military with PTSD)
AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) -

Fireworks may be enjoyable for some, but for those who fought for our country, it can be a tough time of year.

That's because for some of America's most patriotic, the sound of fireworks can put them back to a time of combat.

As civilians now, the loud booming noises can spark symptoms of PTSD in the bravest of citizens.

When veterans return home, their mission becomes integrating successfully back into society. However, fireworks can trigger hard memories of combat.

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"It may be firecrackers or fireworks but that may see it or hear it as grenades or gunshots being made," said Lee Persefield, the Amarillo representative for the Texas Veterans Land Board at Ussery-Roan Texas State Veterans Home. "As a result of that, they may be having a tremendous amount of anxiety."

"There's a learned trained response that veterans have to beat and then there's also an experienced response," said Randy Willmon, Navigator at the Veterans Resource Center. "They've had to actually react to an event that might have caused them trauma, or they might have developed PTSD from that as well."

While that response is what kept them alive during battle, when celebrating with family and friends, it's tricky.

"All the chemicals that it gives to the brain and says okay you need to dive for cover, you need more adrenaline," said Willmon. "You need your heart rate up, blood constricts and you lose some of your thinking in your executive brain because blood just isn't getting there as much."

"So that's kind of the fight with veterans that they have to self-regulate and understand that they are in a safe space and everyone is trying to celebrate the very things that they fought for," said Willmon.

Willmon said there was a time when he would have isolated himself during the Fourth.

Now, he's learned how to process what's happening before reacting.

"Yeah, I did jump and one of my civilian friends kind of looked at me and said, 'hey you alright?'," said Willmon. "I said give me a minute. I took a deep breath, and then I was able to watch. There was a couple more times when a particularly loud explosion you can feel it in your chest. Your brain is like run for cover and you're like no, we're good. You're surrounded by friends, we're in a parking lot, there's no reason to."

At a Texas State Veterans home, employees found the best way to understand how the Fourth will affect their veterans is to really get to know them - even if that means avoiding fireworks all together.

"As a facility, we want to include everyone that we can so we have to look for those activities that would be less threatening to those individuals," said Willmon. "So we've got a live band coming and a cookout as an opportunity to celebrate the holiday."

If you live near a veteran and plan to set off fireworks this week, please give them a heads up before you blast off so they can take precautions if need be.

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