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Fireworks can be painful reminders for combat veterans on July 4th

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Independence Day is a time to celebrate the United States of America. The day is packed with all-American traditions like cookouts, grilling and, a favorite, popping fireworks.

The dazzling displays light up the night sky in colorful creations of red, white and blue, but fireworks can also serve as a trauma reminder for combat veterans. Pyrotechnics can trigger a wide array of emotions.

Jonathan Bohannon, the director of military services for Emergence Health Network, told ABC-7 that the day brings back flashbacks and emotions veterans experienced during combat.

“The bright lights, the loud explosions, and even the smell of the fireworks can sometimes put them back into their position where there's a threat," said Bohannon.

He said days like these can have significant impacts and could hurt the progress some veterans have already made.

“It could potentially set the veteran back. They could be in services working on grounding techniques and, and things of that nature, and it could automatically put them back into the position of having to rework all that due to being exposed to the, again, the flashes, the sounds, and even the smells," Bohannon explained.

He said veterans don't just deal with these emotions on Independence Day.

“It could even be up to the 4th of July. The anxiety may have that veteran on edge. And so up until that point of the fireworks, they could be just stressed out," he said.

Bohannon explained that for many combat veterans, fireworks resemble gunshots and intense fire. He said it's important for families and loved ones to look for warning signs.

“The veteran may start to isolate and, you know, stop communicating with the family or just feel embarrassed or shame ashamed or feel guilty that they're unable to partake in this celebration," he said.

Bohannon empathizes with other veterans during this time. He said it is important for them to be proactive.

"Myself as a veteran of PTSD, and you know, this is a hard time for even myself when it comes to these celebrations, but one, the strategy I use is to just prepare myself mentally and try to set my expectations to endure the fireworks by, gradual exposure, if you will. And the minute I trigger, you know, then you know, myself, there is a plan that I have in place to, you know, bring myself out of the situation."

Bohannon said those most vulnerable during this time are veterans, active-duty members, and their families. He said it's important for veterans and their loved ones to communicate with neighbors about how the day can negatively impact them. Bohannon also said veterans need to advocate for themselves.

He also said families should have a plan of action in case they have to leave. Bohannon also suggested families participate in other activities outside of the city limits, like camping and fishing. He also suggests creating a safe space in their homes.

He said veterans can manage the loud noises with earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or playing video games with headphones on.

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Rosemary Montañez

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