As I sit here on Canada Day listening to fireworks going off, this story really makes me wish that Canadian veteran programs also created a program like this. This year, Shawn Gourley and her family, which includes her husband Justin who served with the United States Navy from 2000 to 2004 launched a sign campaign with Military with PTSD that raises the issue about post-traumatic stress disorder around holidays that involve lots of fireworks.
For the Gourleys, every July 4th for the last eight years has meant that they have left their Indiana home for remote campgrounds to escape the fireworks of celebrations. These fireworks trigger Justin’s wartime memories and make him very anxious, causing him to pace back and forth and search for ways to protect his family.
Justin is one of about 500,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and many also have their symptoms worsened by the cracks and thundering of celebratory fireworks as well as the bright lights that often resemble gunfire. On top of that, 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans and 10% of Gulf War veterans are also living with post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that there is a pretty large part of the population who may love Independence Day, but just cannot handle fireworks in the same way that others can.
The sign campaign has already finished up mailing out about 4,000 signs that read, “Combat veteran lives here, please be courteous with fireworks” to all veterans who had requested them, with an additional 3,400 people on the waiting list to receive a free sign before Independence Day.
Although the campaign has been criticized as being sort of a buzz-kill, as Gourley and the organization points out, that is not the case at all. Rather, the campaign is asking that residents inform their veteran neighbours about when and where fireworks will be set off so that the veterans can properly prepare. This also helps to create a conversation with non-veterans and veterans, as post-traumatic stress disorder can leave many veterans feeling isolated and wanting to avoid crowds.
I am all for this campaign and I think it would be wonderful to spread to other parts of the world as well. It is also a big step in the right direction for people to realize that people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder are not a burden, rather, they, like many other people in society, sometimes just need a little support. And I mean, when you think of what they risked for their countries, it is really not too much to ask to give them a heads up on fireworks.