Fireworks PTSD and Other July 4th Risks Veterans Face

At press, July 4th Independence Day is one week away. Across the country communities prepare to celebrate separation from British colonies nearly a quarter of a millennium ago. On this occasion, military veterans from past and present are also recognized for their enduring role in protecting our independence, rights, and freedoms. It’s a good time to be had by all, right? Not necessarily. A number of veterans put on a mask to hide past trauma, grinning and bearing the celebrations when inside they suffer. While their mental health struggles are certainly not reserved to one day, July 4th and all that surrounds it can amplify what they are experiencing. Fireworks induced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) come to mind for most, but there is even more to consider.

As one of America’s preeminent mental health support platforms for servicepersons, Kindbridge asks communities, organizations, groups, and households that count veterans in their fold to be more mindful this July 4th. Steps can be taken to mitigate feelings of anxiety, stress, and compromised mental health in general so that they (veterans) can enjoy festivities too. Of course, this call to action is about much more than protecting our nation’s protectors on Independence Day. The intent is to spread awareness into all days. weeks, months, years, and generations to follow. Please keep reading.

Military Veteran Mental Health Concerns Amplified by Independence Day Celebrations and What You Can Do About It

Fireworks PTSD

Independence Day and fireworks are as synonymous as military veterans and PTSD. It’s a crude observation to make, perhaps, but it’s apt given the fireworks PTSD connection. Veterans who have experienced trauma related to explosions, gunfire, loud noises, or fire are more likely then civilians to be triggered by fireworks. The sights and sounds may cause them to recall past traumatic events and exhibit reactions that range from discomfort to the more extreme. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD reports that veterans may exhibit the following when exposed to firework displays associated with July 4th and the like:

  • Feelings of being on edge and jittery
  • Experiencing flashbacks, or reliving a traumatic event as if it is happening again
  • Feelings of emotional numbness and distance during celebrations
  • Feeling as if they can’t control the situation or as if they are being blindsided

In addition to fireworks, many communities have fighter jets flying overhead in formation which may also incite feelings of anxiety and other reactions that are symptomatic of PTSD. Simple things like sparklers can also set off veterans who are highly sensitive to such triggers.

Even more concerning, is that veterans may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage the symptoms, using alcohol and/or drugs to make it through the celebrations.

Social Phobia and Crowds

In a recent study conducted by Kindbridge regarding the Colorado Military Veterans Project we looked at the top 10 clinical diagnoses encountered by those who participated in the survey. 35% of the veterans exhibited social phobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by feelings of extreme and persistent anxiety associated with social situations. They generally do not do well in crowds. You can see how July 4th celebrations can be problematic, especially when piling on the concerns addressed above and below.

Celebrations Amplifying Symptoms of Cooccurring Conditions

There are other veteran mental health issues that cooccur with PTSD and social phobia that have symptoms that may be amplified or overloaded by fireworks, crowds, and the other sights/sounds of Independence Day celebrations. These include the following:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

4th of July Gambling Promotions Tie-In

Land-based and online casinos and sportsbooks flood the market with 4th of July promotions, inviting new and existing players to take advantage of bonus offers. As we see with Veterans Day and other serviceperson focused days of recognition, a number of these promotions specifically target members of the military. Given that veterans are 3.5 times more likely than civilians to develop gambling disorder (GD) engagement in this Independence Day celebration is also of concern. It’s serendipitous that the opportunity to draw attention to this particular veteran mental health issue arrives as Kindbridge Research Institute announced the formation of a Military Gambling Awareness Committee.

What You Can Do About It

“The sights, sounds, and odor of fireworks, as well as the vocal responses of the crowd at large displays evoke memories that trigger fear and anxiety. Many veterans experience flashbacks in which they relive combat and training accidents and have nightmares of those events, interrupting sleep. The instinct of many veterans is to avoid the holiday altogether: Many patients I knew sought refuge in remote mountain campsites often to find that even there they were not safe from revelers.”

National Library of Medicine

Veterans may not have to head to the mountains to avoid fireworks PTSD and other triggers associated with Independence Day celebrations, but steps need to be taken to protect them.

Households and loved ones celebrating with veterans should consider attending (or hosting) smaller gatherings such as a backyard BBQs that are located far away from fireworks and crowds. More importantly, encourage them to speak with a counselor who specializes in working with veterans. If they are already in counseling, they can ask their therapist about techniques to employ during concerning celebrations. Qualified therapists can recommend breathing exercises and meditative methods that can prepare them for and manage symptoms, while avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms. This may also be a good time to attend family group sessions so that you can develop a better understanding of what they are going through during unique events like July 4th and all others to come.


If you or a loved one is an active serviceperson or a veteran, and are concerned about your/their mental health, please reach out via the contacts provided below to speak to a Kindbridge care coordinator right away.

*Remember, veteran residents of Colorado qualify for FREE counseling and therapy through the Colorado Military Veterans Project.

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

Fireworks PTSD Military Veterans