Fireworks and PTSD: Local advocate explains how 4th of July displays could bring some veterans back to the battlefield

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BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO)- Many people across the Stateline will shoot off fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. The brilliant flashes of light and loud booms can be entertaining for most. But for members of one community, it can be traumatic.

“Just about any veteran who has been exposed to combat is going to have some PTSD issues,” said Robert Ryder, Superintendent of the Veteran’s Assistance Commission of Boone County. “Along with the noise, there’s also the smell of fireworks. The smell of gunpowder, the smell of cordite, is very similar to the kind of smells that you might have on the battlefield from rounds going down range and from rifles and machine guns shooting. That smell can trigger it as well, a couple of hours later.”

Professional shows, according to Ryder, aren’t the main concern when it comes to keeping vets safe.

“Those aren’t usually the type of events that are going to trigger PTSD because the veteran knows when they’re going to happen and where they’re going to happen,” he said. “What really triggers PTSD is when you have some sort of firework or explosion that you’re not expecting.”

Fireworks are illegal in Illinois, and launching them without permission could lead to hefty fines. But if you do decide to engage in your own pyrotechnics, Ryder urges finding an isolated place to do so.

“Think beyond yourself,” he said. “Think of those veterans who have fought for your freedom.”

If you or a veteran you know is suffering from PTSD, you shouldn’t wait to get help.

“You want to be turning to people that you trust, and people that you like, and people that understand,” Ryder said. “Maybe talk to another veteran, a veteran who has been through PTSD and knows what it’s like and know what you’re going through. Reach out for help because others are out there to help you.”

The National Center for PTSD offers a 24/7 Veteran’s Crisis hotline.

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