July 4th, Fireworks, Veterans and Coping with War

posted in Our Thoughts, Veterans

On the 4th of July we celebrate the birth of our nation. As young as we are, the USA is the longest running continuous democracy around today.   And…it bears repeating: our ideals of liberty and justice for all came at a cost. Many brave Americans gave and continue to give up life and limb and in some cases a full and happy life for these ideals.

Indeed, for the ones who come back, the psychological scars can be more damaging than the physical.

17 Years of War

In our recent history, 1% of our population have been conducting global combat operations for the last 17 years, almost 3 million and counting. Generations of servicemembers have handed down the responsibility of these conflicts to their children.

As a veteran, I can say that virtually all Americans I know respect that sacrifice… but few know what it’s really like to be in the shoes of someone coming home—“re-integrating “ as the military awkwardly puts it.

So for many Americans, Fourth of July fireworks are just…fun.  But for some combat vets, they sound like, well, what they are meant to sound like: artillery and gunfire.

Fireworks

Many veterans experienced traumatic experiences from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), small arms fire, and mortar attacks. For some, these experiences can make the Fourth a less than enjoyable experience. As veterans, we all have friends that processed their experiences differently when they came home. Some would rather spend the Fourth cleaning their basement.

Some veteran groups have created this sign to ask neighbors of combat veterans to be aware of combat vets’ very different life experiences.

Stigma

This sign is controversial in the veterans community.      Some believe that the signs stigmatize the veteran community as mentally broken and unable to move on. No one, least of all combat vets, wants people to feel sorry for them.

Other vets, like those of us in  Veterans & First Responders Healthcare, recognize that the signs ask for help. Minimal. A small gesture. But help.  And it is not wrong to ask for help. It’s right, and it takes courage.

Realities

But that’s not where the controversy ends, and here I want to be completely frank with my fellow vets.   It’s true that people are impacted by trauma differently. Some individuals can be affected by fireworks, while others don’t even think twice about it. It depends on so many factors that you simply can’t group all veterans into one bucket.

But let’s be honest with ourselves.  If a veteran is hypersensitive, hypervigilant, suffers serious adverse effects during Fourth of July, they should seriously consider screening for PTS. Self-care is vital to our community and we are losing too many brothers and sisters to suicide and substance abuse. And too often, that’s  where PTS can lead.

So yes, it takes courage to ask for help. Ask.