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Veterans find alternate ways to celebrate Independence Day as fireworks can trigger PTSD, other illnesses

"If you know your neighbor and you know that they're a veteran, try to be a little bit more cognizant about loud noises and crowds."

TYLER, Texas — The Fourth of July is Monday and people are gearing up to set off fireworks to commemorate the holiday. While it can be fun for many, it could also be harmful for war veterans with PTSD. 

For some returning back from war, the sound of fireworks can trigger PTSD among active or non-active military members.   

Iraq combat veteran Michael Johnson didn't realize he had PTSD until he returned home from war. 

"We love to celebrate the Fourth of July, but when I first came back from my first tour, I realized on July Fourth that I had issues and then it was after my second tour that they diagnosed me with PTSD," Johnson said.

Millions of veterans battle with this health condition, which takes away the excitement for them to enjoy firework shows. 

To get away from the noise, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) has been considered a safe haven for veterans with PTSD in Smith County for 80 years. 

"I'm thrilled that I have people around me that support what we've done for our country," said Christian Colbert, Iraq combat Navy and Army veteran. "We do get together, share stories, laugh, and joke. The VFW in town is here to support one another." 

While many have these communities to turn to, older or non-mobile veterans may not have a place to turn to. 

Johnson said it's best to check in on your neighbors with PTSD before setting fireworks off. This can help make their holiday less traumatic and more enjoyable. 

"I lived in a neighborhood where my neighbors knew that I was a combat veteran," Johnson said. "I would just ask them to let me know before you pop any artillery shells. It gives my mind a heads up that it's not an incoming device and stuff like that."  

Experts said fireworks can also harm people with Alzheimer's, but there are ways to include them in the celebration.  

Stephanie Taylor, executive director of the Alzheimer's  Alliance of Smith County, said if you know someone with Alzheimer's or dementia, they may feel more comfortable celebrating with indoor activities.  

"Maybe watch fireworks on TV so it's in a controlled environment and even prepare your loved ones [by letting] them know there may be loud noises throughout the evening, even if you're indoors," Taylor said. 

Since some people set off fireworks late at night when people with dementia aren't used to hearing loud noises, Taylor said it's best to be prepared with things that comfort them. 

"Playing their favorite music, background noise to help drown out some of the outside noise is really great approach to help calm their fears when they hear those loud noises," Taylor said. 

The Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County has created four tips for a dementia-friendly 4th of July celebration for the whole family to enjoy. 

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