The 4th of July is right around the corner and for many of us, that means partaking in one of America’s great pastimes—fireworks. Why do we celebrate with these rockets of firepower anyway?

A Little July Fourth History

Consider a letter written by John Adams. Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, he envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In this letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forevermore.”

The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777.

The Fourth of July Today

And so it continues, 245 years later, with this July 4, 2022, weekend lineup of fireworks shows across the Valley. Celebrating among us will be the thousands of men and women who have served our country and fought for the same freedoms fought for in 1776.

Fireworks and PTSD for Veterans

While fireworks tend to evoke a sense of awe and wonder, many veterans experience a much different sensation. An excerpt featured on Military.com by the Associated Press explains the struggle with PTSD triggered by this celebration:

“Thomason, a 28-year-old Louisville native and Sellersburg resident, remembers being at that first Independence Day party when a flashback was suddenly triggered. He was either playing a game or in a conversation with his wife — he can’t remember which — when someone behind him set off fireworks without warning.

‘When that happened, I physically just jumped and didn’t really know where I was for a minute,’ he said. ‘I had a flashback and we had to leave, and that started to be a trend.’

Several months prior, Thomason was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, at a local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.

He was later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, though he doesn’t know which explosion did it. Now when July 4 comes around, he and his wife go out of town, somewhere like the Smoky Mountains where Thomason can find peace and quiet. And he’s not the only one.

Thomason is one of an estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While fireworks don’t trigger PTSD for all soldiers or veterans, it seems to be a more common occurrence in recent years.

Cindy Ramminger, the coordinator of the PTSD clinical team at Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, said fireworks were an issue for veterans from as far back as the Vietnam and Gulf wars.”

This phenomenon is a sobering reminder of the struggles that Veterans face every day and of the many ways we, as a society, are out of touch with just how pervasive these struggles can be.

Other Manifestations of Mental Health Issues

Homelessness, substance abuse, and, in many cases, criminality are all symptoms of the myriad of mental health issues (including PTSD) affecting many of our Veterans.

Independence Day is another day to think about the cost of the freedom we so enjoy. So as you sit and watch the fireworks this holiday, consider volunteering your time or supporting the Veterans in your community by advocating for Veterans Courts and other services dedicated to serving those who have served for us.

From all of us here at the office, we hope everyone has a great start to the July 4th weekend and remember those patriots who have fought to keep our country free!