Fireworks can trigger anxiety for some with PTSD

Published: .
Updated: .

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate America's independence, but for veterans living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the holiday can be a nightmare.

A combat veteran living in Georgia posted a sign this week in his front yard, asking neighbors to be courteous with fireworks because he has PTSD. A posting about the man and his sign went viral on social media.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says fireworks can trigger anxiety in veterans with PTSD.

Air Force veteran Jim Ellis says he's ready for the fireworks he'll see and hear going off tonight. It wasn't always that way, though.

"When I first got out, it was a real struggle," Ellis said from his Westfield home, as he and his wife prepared desert to take to an annual family picnic Friday.

When Ellis first heard the sounds of fireworks going off, it was a struggle not to relive, even for a moment, sounds that used to signal a matter of life and death. "You're trained to react immediately," said Ellis. There's no hesitation."

His reaction when he first returned home seven years ago is very different than the one he has now.

"I no longer feel the need to duck, but there's definitely that alertness, where's it at, where's it coming from, what is it?" explained Ellis.

Doctors at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis told Eyewitness News in a 2010 interview about fireworks and the kind of reactions Ellis is talking.

"It's called hyper-vigilance," said Dr. Steven Herman. "It's being aware of everything that's going on around you and exaggerated startle response. Fireworks is an issue that comes up every year in every one of my groups. It doesn't matter the era, even World War II veterans complain about fireworks."

For Ellis these days, it's not so much the actual holiday that remains the issue, it's the days that come later.

"July 5th, July 6th, August 8th, really, you're still shooting fireworks off?" Ellis said. "Those are the ones that would really bother me."

He knows though it may always be the case, so he's learned to live with it.