Vets with PTSD struggle during Fourth of July

While many prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, there is one group struggling with anxiety as the holiday approaches.
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder say the fireworks can act as triggers for painful memories.

Each Wednesday, a support group for vets with PTSD meets at the Sunnyside Presbyterian Church in South Bend. They gather in a basement classroom and share their stories.

“One of my best friends was blown up,” veteran Bob McCoy said. “He disintegrated right in front of my eyes.”

These men and women offer guidance for one another as they learn to cope with their condition.

“PTSD is a brain that did not come back,” said Dr. Michael Sheehan, who leads the support group. “It didn’t adapt back, it is still at war.”

Red, white and blue cupcakes are passed out but they know that Thursday will be a tough day.

“This is the hardest time of the year, the hardest day for guys with PTSD,” Sheehan said. “Our community doesn’t really know that.”

To a mind accustomed to the sounds of warfare – the sounds of fireworks can prove to be a true test.

“If I’m not paying attention, I’ll hit the dirt,” McCoy said. “It’s like incoming, riffle fire.”

A small explosion can go off down the block and, in an instant, they are back to their days in combat.

“It flashes me back there and I can’t get back for a while,” McCoy said.

Some try to stay indoors to avoid the lit up night sky.

“I try to confine myself at home rather than getting upset,” veteran Nick Solay said.

Sheehan suggests letting any veterans on your block know when you will be setting off fireworks to avoid catching them by surprise.

If you would like to take part in the support group, call Sheehan at 574-850-5012.

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