Days of fireworks make for hard time for vets with PTSD

by: Angela Jacobs

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As the Fourth of July nears, the days of loud noise can affect military veterans, first responders and anyone who else who might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lake Nona, people can sign up for a free sign alerting neighbors that someone with PTSD lives nearby.

Army veteran Bruce Chambers said he likes the idea of celebrating freedom that was fought for, but wants to remind people not to overdo it and keep the party to one night instead of four.

Read: Firework celebrations could bring out PTSD

“Fireworks, even now, to me, sound like combat. And I don’t think that’s something that goes away,” said Chambers.

Chambers’ nine-year struggle with PTSD began after he spent 14 months in Iraq. 

“Before I got help, I locked myself away. I didn’t want to be around fireworks,” he said.

Read: Florida group works to help life-saving firefighters save themselves

Chambers sought help for his PTSD at UCF Restores, a free research clinic at the University of Central Florida where veterans receive help processing and overcoming PTSD triggers.

“We take them back into the situation that creates their trauma and almost relive it again,” said UCF professor Dr. Deborah Beidel.

Beidel runs the intensive three-week program in which veterans receive virtual reality therapy on their road to recovery.

“My mindset is changed tremendously from where it was to where it is now and I can kind of deal with things,” Chambers said.

Read: Army should factor PTSD in discharge decisions, lawsuit claims

Results from the project’s first peer review found more than 66 percent of vets participating in the program no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t have any symptoms anymore, but what it does mean is that those symptoms are no longer ruling their life. They’ve got their lives back,” said Beidel.

The program also treats survivors of the Pulse nightclub attack and first responders.

With new state and federal funding on the way, researchers plan to expand to treat families as a whole, statewide and free of charge.  

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