JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People across Northeast Florida are getting ready to shoot off fireworks in celebration of the Fourth of July. Several communities, including Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, will hold fireworks displays.
But for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, they can be triggering. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.
Former United States Army Specialist Kyle White understands this very well. White received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic actions during combat in Afghanistan on November 9, 2007. But it was upon his return home from deployment a year later when he first realized something was wrong.
“It was really the people around me that recognized something was different,” White said. “Something had changed. I wasn’t who I was when I left.”
White was suffering from post-traumatic stress. White wasn’t alone. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom experience symptoms of PTSD in a given year.
For many combat veterans, celebratory fireworks and other loud noises can bring about symptoms that are difficult to cope with. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, emotional detachment from others, etc.
Through hard work, therapy and support, White is no longer bothered by the sound of fireworks. But at one time, he was.
“Especially very early on after returning from deployment, some of those sounds can sound very much like incoming rounds,” White said. “It can be triggering.”
People are advised to keep their veteran neighbors in mind when they shoot off fireworks this year and to always be courteous. By sharing his story, White hopes to send a message to the community and to his fellow veterans — particularly those suffering in silence who haven’t yet sought help.
“You’re worried about the perception of your peers, your leaders, whatever it may be, you’ve got to understand happiness, success or failure for the rest of your life depends on you,” White said. “Nobody else is going to fix those problems for you, so you’ve got to get out in front of it.”
You’re urged to celebrate, but if you have a neighbor whom you know is a veteran, you’re urged to keep them in mind. Also, check on them and be courteous.
White says one thing that worked for him with fireworks was noise-canceling headphones. He encourages his fellow veterans to always have a plan.
Any veteran in crisis or in need of help, please visit the veteran’s crisis line.