“Once veterans get in that state, it’s very hard to calm them down,” said Shawn J. Gourley, executive director and cofounder of the nonprofit Military with PTSD.
In preparation for July 4, Military with PTSD is offering free yard signs to veterans around the country that read, “Combat veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it’s important for the families of veterans with PTSD to have a plan when the veteran will interact with fireworks. That’s hard to do when the noises go off without warning, Gourley said. The problem is not the holiday itself, when veterans are prepared for the noises, but the week or so leading up to July 4.
“By the Fourth [of July], he’s just a raw bundle of nerves,” she said of veterans with PTSD.
It’s a problem that veterans may have had trouble discussing with neighbors in the past, Gourley said. Although the sign doesn’t solve all the problems, it opens up a dialogue on the subject.
“This sign is not a solution at all,” she said. “It’s not going to fix their PTSD, but it is going to make people aware.”
With this warning, veterans are able to plan. Gourley emphasized that each case of PTSD is different and that veterans should discuss personalized coping strategies with their doctors. Potential strategies include going camping around the holiday, wearing noise-cancelling headphones during the fireworks and setting off the fireworks themselves.
The sign first gained popularity last July, when one of the organization’s members made the sign for himself. When Military PTSD posted a photo of the sign to its Facebook page, it got hundreds of thousands of shares.
“So many veterans were asking, ‘Where can I get this,’ ‘Where can I get this,’ ‘Where can I get this?’ that we decided to mass produce,” she said.
Though they are no longer able to guarantee shipment in time for the holiday, Gourley said every veteran who orders a sign will receive it at some point.
For now, Military with PTSD is asking the veterans who request the sign to pay for shipping, though they are working to raise funds so that won’t be necessary in the future. Gourley said the public can help by donating money, 24 X 24 shipping bags and even bubble wrap. She’d also like to organize distribution to veteran organizations around the country.
This is the first year the signs have been offered, and Gourley is enthusiastic about the future. The signs have been delivered to all 50 states, and the waiting list has grown to 3,600 veterans.
Gourley does not want neighbors who see the signs to think that veterans don’t want fireworks at all, especially on July 4.
“That is not what this is about,” she said. “Nobody wants to stop the fun. We want to start a conversation.”
Gourley said it’s not the signs themselves that are making the difference, but the conversations they are opening up for veterans with PTSD.
“So many of them, you can see it in their faces, they are so proud of this,” she said. “This has given them a way to start speaking.”