July 4th fireworks

People celebrating Independence Day with fireworks should be mindful of nearby combat veterans who may be affected by noises sometimes heard in wartime, local experts say.

Though Independence Day fireworks serve as a tradition for many, local experts say such explosives unintentionally provoke memories of violent combat for veterans.

“Loud, unexpected noises like fireworks are extremely common triggers for combat veterans,” said Amy Lowrey, head of counseling at Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop. “The noises can remind them of gunfire or explosions that they experienced on the battlefield.”

Such noises are capable of instantly transporting someone back to a specific wartime situation — even situations veterans have worked diligently to handle internally, she said. Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are particularly vulnerable to the issue on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, she said.

A bundle of firecrackers, for instance, can sound like mortar shells to veterans familiar with demolition, Lowrey said.

Not all veterans are affected by fireworks, McLennan County Veterans Services Officer Steve Hernandez said. Still, a range of emotions can be triggered by the noise. PTSD is “a lifelong injury that has to be dealt with all the time,” Hernandez said.

“We just have a lot of people in the community who are still re-integrating and never fully transitioned out,” he said. “Unfortunately, mental injury is incurable, but it is manageable. Nonetheless, you still have to be aware that those folks are out there.”

The H-E-B fireworks show that caps off the Fourth on the Brazos event Tuesday night begins at 9:15 p.m. between Baylor’s Ferrell Center and McLane Stadium.

Awareness of official or neighborhood firework shows is pivotal, said Kevin Davis, program manager of Baylor University’s VETS program. The program, which stands for Veteran Educational and Transition Services, provides academic success initiatives and other benefits to students who are veterans.

“We have a lot of these guys that have fought for the continued independence of this country that struggle with things like loud, abrupt noises and large crowds and some of the chaos that it can feel like when you’re in that environment,” said Davis, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2007.

Some front yards have signs indicating a combat veteran lives in the house. Remaining mindful of the neighbors and connecting with those veterans fosters community and trust, he said.

“Sometimes, the problem is everyone is out and enjoying the festivities, so veterans can be left in isolation trying to stay away from that environment, and isolation can be dangerous,” Davis said. “My big thing would be reach out, connect with somebody and you can walk through that together.”

Lowrey also encouraged neighbors to meet with combat veterans and have a conversation.

“Our veterans have worked so hard for our independence, and we all want to celebrate that,” she said. “We live in a great, wonderful country. Just don’t pop fireworks at 2 in the morning and scare people. We just want to be respectful of that.”

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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