Fireworks can trigger panic attacks for combat veterans and sold - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Fireworks can trigger panic attacks for combat veterans and soldiers

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

Each year, Fourth of July fireworks celebrate America's freedom. But for many who have fought for that freedom, the very same fireworks can cause major anxiety, especially if the sound is unexpected.

According to the Veterans and PTSD website, over 2.3 million American veterans served in Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and at least 20 percent of these veterans struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression.

"It can really take a whole day. It can take you 10 minutes to an hour to regroup," Said Sam Rhodes, a veteran and founder of Warrior Outreach.

As a retired Command Sergeant Major, Rhodes understands what it's like to live with PTSD. He overcame suicidal thoughts and negative memories by creating Warrior Outreach, a non-profit organization aimed to help veterans struggling with PTSD.

Rhodes said Fourth of July is an exciting day, but fireworks can also trigger panic attacks.

"Fireworks sound similar to gunfire," Rhodes explained. "So when veterans with PTSD hear fireworks and other loud noises like doors slamming or any unexpected sudden noises, negative memories and fear are triggered. Once it starts, anything can happen."

Mark Strunk with Pastoral Institute said loud noises like fireworks can indeed trigger fear and unwanted memories for veterans and soldiers with PTSD.

"When you expect something, you're not going to get easily frightened by it," Strunk said. "You know it's going to happen. So when veterans see fireworks, they feel patriotic like the rest of us. However, I think the biggest factor is the unexpected portion. When fireworks or other loud noises are unexpected, it can trigger panic attack for those struggling with PTSD."

Strunk said it's important for people who have neighbors that have served in combat to let them know ahead of time when they will be lighting fireworks.

"It's a nice thing to do for your servicemen," Strunk said. "Just to let them know ahead of time, so they can prepare themselves. PTSD can cause unpleasant memories and fear. Or it might help some of our veterans with PTSD celebrate their Fourth of July by going to the mountains or somewhere quiet with their loved ones."

Rhodes agrees that unexpected noises trigger his PTSD symptoms.

"It can be unexpected fireworks or someone blowing their horn at you," Rhodes said. "Whenever I hear loud noises, I replay this tragic day over and over again in my head. It takes me back to April 9, 2004 when I was in Iraq. We were ambushed and you can hear that pop noise from rocket-propelled grenade. I saw it coming on top of my vehicle, and it hit the vehicle that my good friend was in. That's what I keep going back to."

Rhodes recommended veterans and soldiers with PTSD to learn breathing and meditating techniques to stay calm for Fourth of July, since loud noises are expected to be heard on Independence Day.

You can visit Warrior Outreach's website at http://www.warrioroutreach.org/index.htm if you are interested in volunteering or donating to the organization to help soldiers with PTSD and more.

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