VA Maryland Health Care System Raises Awareness for Veterans Living with PTSD

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Loud fanfare can turn holiday into a difficult time for some Veterans.

"Wearing noise-canceling headphones can mitigate the effects of sudden, loud noises," says Dr. Erin Romero, psychologist at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and the VA Maryland Health Care System wants to raise awareness about the condition, especially during the time leading up to the Fourth of July holiday. The loud fanfare that comes with the Fourth of July can cause concerns for Veterans living with PTSD. Fireworks can trigger anxiety and cause a range of reactions, anything from an intense startle response to a flashback, says Dr. Erin Romero and Dr. Erika White, psychologists at the VA Maryland Health Care System. Romero and White recommend that Veterans living with PTSD prepare for the holiday. For Veterans who value participating in Fourth of July activities, they can practice being around loud noises prior to the holiday in order to decrease the impact of the noises during live celebrations. For some Veterans, wearing noise-canceling headphones as a way to mitigate the effects of sudden, loud noises can be helpful. Romero and White offer a list of some triggers for Veterans during the holiday and suggest ways for family members, friends and neighbors to help their love ones living with PTSD.

Triggers for Veterans during the Fourth of July holiday may include:

  • Fireworks, firecrackers, and loud explosives (gun fire), which can remind Veterans of combat firefights, etc.
  • Crowds
  • Family gatherings rife with triggering and insensitive questions such as “how many people did you kill?”

How can you help support Veterans with PTSD?

  • Ensure Veterans with PTSD know how to access treatment
  • Give some helpful pointers to Veterans on how to cope with triggers including:

o    Using coping skills – planning ahead,
o    Being flexible,
o    Exercising good self-care,
o    Dealing with problems early,
o    Thinking about consequences,
o    Slowing response down,
o    Reducing anxiety levels so that the Veteran can choose how to respond, rather than reacting,
o    Seeking support from friends, family members and/or professionals, as needed.

Know the warning signs for when your Veteran needs outside help:

  • Family and social relationship troubles — frequent and intense conflicts, poor communication, inability to meet responsibilities.
  • Work, school, or community issues — frequent absences, conflicts, inability to meet deadlines, poor performance.
  • Frequent or severe depressed or angry moods — especially if there is a possibility that they are going to hurt themselves or someone else.
  • Being regularly hyper-alert or on guard – with frequent intrusive thoughts or images of war zone experiences.

Getting Help:

  • Veterans needing help coping with the Fourth of July fanfare can come to the Mental Health Assessment and Referral Walk-In Clinic at the Baltimore VA Medical Center located on the 6th floor. The clinic opens daily at 12:30 p.m.
  • Veterans and their family members can all the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and press 1 for Veterans.
  • If the situation is an emergency, Veterans can go to the Emergency Department at the Baltimore VA Medical Center or call 911.

To arrange an interview with either Dr. Romero or Dr. White, psychologists at the VA Maryland Health Care System, about what the general public can do to support Veterans struggling with PTSD, especially during the Fourth of July holiday, please contact Rosalia Scalia at rosalia.scalia(at)va(dot)gov, or by calling 410.605.7464.

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Rosalia Scalia
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