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Consider veterans when setting off fireworks

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By JESSICA FARRISH | The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. | Published: July 1, 2015

BECKLEY, W. Va, (Tribune News Service) — Independence Day is a celebration of patriots, but the Fourth of July is one of the most difficult days of the year for many of those who made sacrifices for American freedom.

The sudden noise caused by fireworks reminds many veterans of traumatic and dangerous situations, said Anna Verschoore, chief of Mental Services at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center of Beckley.

“Most veterans are extraordinarily patriotic and most have a very strong allegiance to the flag and our country’s birthday and our country’s freedom, so the 4th of July for most veterans is tremendously symbolic and most do want to participate in some way with our nation’s birthday,” Verschoore said Tuesday. “But crowds and fireworks...are difficult for them.”

“Many veterans — not all, but most veterans — report extreme discomfort when they hear fireworks, primarily because the noise is sudden, it’s unexpected and, of course, it’s very loud,” Verschoore said. “That is really a reminder of experiences that veterans had during their military time.

“Many fireworks sound like gunfire, so it brings them to a point of extreme anxiety or fear,” she added.

She asked that local residents be respectful of veterans in their families and neighborhoods this July 4th when they decide to display fireworks.

“The primary suggestion we would make to people would be to try to publicize when they have scheduled fireworks events so that veterans can be prepared for what they might hear in their neighborhoods.”

Some veterans have injury-related neurological symptoms and eardrum injuries that are worsened by explosive noises.

Verschoore said that many veterans report that loud noises such as a car backfiring, a door slamming or even shouts from people are stressful for them, too.

“Any kind of loud noise can bother them,” she said. “It’s a combination of psychological pain and physical injuries that are exacerbated by loud noises.”

Large crowds are also a stressor for many veterans, she reported.

“The crowd creates extreme discomfort because there’s too much uncertainty,” she said. “It’s hard to protect yourself and your family if you have 100 people to be alert to. It’s harder to control your environment.

“A lot of the time, veterans have had experiences where there were explosions where there were a lot of people, so for some, the crowd is a reminder for a specific combat experience that was traumatic,” Verschoore added.

She said that veterans from all American wars report a similar reaction to both crowds and fireworks, regardless of the technological advancements in warfare and national political climate.

To make Fourth of July celebrations peaceful for veterans, Verschoore asked residents to post the dates and times of firework displays on social media sites and go door-to-door to let older veterans know of an event involving fireworks this Saturday.

She said that, when time permits, it’s also a good idea to put up community posters and to advertise in local media.

Verschoore said it’s important not to stereotype veterans.

“It is really important that people not reach judgments about every veteran because every veteran’s experiences are different, just like every human being’s experiences are different,” she said. “Some veterans are going to struggle with certain things other veterans are not going to struggle with.”

To show appreciation for veterans on Independence Day, Verschoore said a verbal thank-you or giving a small American flag may be appropriate.

“Don’t make an assumption they don’t want to go to fireworks, but offer them them the opportunity not to go,” she advised. “Gratitude and honoring the fact that (veterans) get to decide if (they) want to participate in these boisterous celebrations, especially for the older ones — that means the world to them.

“Most of the older ones didn’t get as much acknowledgment as the younger ones do.”

jfarrish@register-herald.com

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