Local veterans with PTSD ask for courtesy with fireworks on Fourth of July

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Many people look forward to celebrating America's independence on the Fourth of July.

"I love to celebrate our independence just like everyone else," said Lynn Rolf, programs director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Headquarters. "That's what we fought for."

But some of the things that come with those celebrations, like fireworks, can be triggering for those who've defended that freedom.

"We get caught off guard first and foremost," Rolf said.

Lynn Rolf

Rolf is an Army veteran living with post traumatic stress disorder. Independence Day can be a challenge for him.

"Like just last night at my lake, I had a couple buddies at the lake that blew off some mortars while I was already in bed, and that kind of got me out of bed real quick," Rolf said. "Instantly, I went back to my last mortar attack in Baghdad. It really instantly transforms you right back to where you were at."

But as long as he knows about fireworks ahead of time, he can prepare for them.

"That's one thing we always ask," Rolf said. "Just let us know that they're going on."

Rolf said he copes with being around fireworks by surrounding himself with loved ones like his dad, dog and fiance.

Along with giving a heads up, you can also be conservative with firework use.

"Try to limit your firework use to the Fourth of July," said Thomas Demark, a psychiatrist with the Kansas City VA Medical Center's PTSD program. "The fireworks -- vets expect them on the Fourth of July. But it's the one's the day or two or the week or two before or after that are unexpected."

Demark said PTSD strengthens and weakens based on stress and can bring panic attacks, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.

"Give honor and respect to this country and the freedom that we have and also to be aware that, for some veterans, this isn't a great day of celebration. It's more of a day of mourning and can cause memories of traumas that occurred during combat, so be respectful to them," said Demark, an Army Reserve veteran.

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