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For Vets With PTSD, Fireworks Can Trigger Painful Memories

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(credit: CBS) Reg Chapman
Reg Chapman joined WCCO-TV in May of 2009. He came to WCCO fr...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate the birth of our nation, but for many veterans the sounds of the celebration can bring back painful memories.

For combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fireworks can take them back to what they experienced during war.

“Sometimes those sounds are familiar,” said Dr. Chris Erbes, a clinical psychologist with the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. “They remind [veterans] of the sound of explosions, guns, that sort of thing, and that can bring about a lot of strong memories.”

He says the sound of fireworks can activate memories, and when the veteran goes to bed, those memories play out in their dreams.

Those dreams can be horrifying, Erbes says, like re-living war.

“I’ve had vets talk about, you know, ‘How am I going to get through the night?'” he said.

Some combat veterans are trying to educate their neighbors about the impact fireworks have on them by placing signs in their yards.

They want to start a conversation, not stop the celebration.

“Just let them know, cause one thing I’ve heard again and again from people I work with is: If I know the sound is coming, I’m fine with it,” Erbes said.

He added that veterans dealing with PTSD are not violent.

They just have these extra memories they carry around based on the things they did for our country.

“People with post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t going…to fly off the handle,” Erbes said. “They’re not going to attack you, they are not going to hurt you.”

To honor these veterans is to be respectful about when and where you set off your fireworks.

Enjoy the holiday but make sure those who fought for our freedoms can enjoy it, as well.

Erbes said veterans living with PTSD stay away from big fireworks displays. It’s the fireworks set off in neighborhoods that affect them the most.

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