Every July, the sky erupts with red, white and blue sparks and the smell of burgers and hot dogs welcome in Independence Day.
While the Fourth of July is a time for celebration, the jarring explosions of fireworks can trigger symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in service members. For many members, the explosions bring them back to a war zone.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, between 11 and 20% of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are diagnosed with PTSD. Around 12% in Desert Storm and 30% of Vietnam veterans also suffer from PTSD.
In 2015, Georgia army veteran Mike Kreft died by suicide after fireworks triggered his PTSD. His brother told WCTV that Kreft struggled with PTSD and often sough help at the Valdosta VA Clinic.
In the last 18 months alone, 22 veterans died by suicide outside a VA Clinic. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta's own VA Clinic is ranked on of the worst in the nation.
One non-profit has stepped up to help veterans and their families, especially during the Fourth of July. Military with PTSD provides veterans and their families with yard signs saying, "Veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks."
The organization also provides signs for neighbors who just want to raise awareness of the effects of fireworks. The signs can be purchased online at www.militarywithptsd.org/store/.
For veterans struggling during the Fourth, experts suggest various coping skills such as using earplugs, planning a getaway for Fourth of July or practicing grounding and breathing techniques.
Fireworks are legal in the state of Georgia and permitted on July 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on both days.