Veterans with PTSD struggle with July 4 fireworks

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Byran Roudebush served 15 months in Iraq as an Army specialist. It was in 2007 in Taji, just north of Baghdad, when an improvised explosive device changed his life forever. 

"I was getting ready to close my eyes and take a nap, and I heard it. I felt it, and I just knew that from that moment on, I would probably never feel the same way about life or myself," said Roudebush. 

He escaped without physical injuries, but he is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As Independence Day approaches, he can feel the anxiety building.

"When you hear a bottle rocket go off, it almost sounds like an AK-47," Roudebush said. "My first Fourth of July home, and I honestly don't think I could take it."

Bill Wall spent five years in the Army and 25 years in the Air Force, all in the mental and behavioral health field. Wall works at the Dayton, Ohio, Veterans Affairs in the Iraq and Afghanistan Post Deployment Clinic, helping veterans to whom he can relate, considering he served in Kuwait and Iraq.

"Your body learns to react like an alarm," Wall said. "Your body hears the fireworks and thinks it's a revisit to Iraq or Afghanistan and it takes a while for you to settle and calm down."

Wall said he remembers a specific evening at a local festival. As he went into a restroom, the fireworks began. 

"I kind of knew it was fireworks but my system was telling me it was something of an explosion, that we had experienced deployment," Wall said. "So I walked out and found my family and my wife said, 'Are you OK?' I think I had tears in my eyes."

The National Center for PTSD reports 11 to 20 percent of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have some form of PTSD. When July 4 comes around, there is concern because many fireworks are made and marketed to sound like assault rifles. 

Roudebush said there is something everyone can do to show consideration and understanding. 

"If you know a neighbor is next door that is a combat vet, that did serve in Iraq, just go knock on his door and say, 'Hey, we're going to shoot these off,'" said Roudebush. "If you're someplace and you notice somebody that seems to be kind of cowering or looking like they're reacting to it, just be supportive."