Fireworks can be PTSD trigger for veterans

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- A bright explosion, a whistle followed by a bang, and the smell of gun powder. Most people will associate those words with a fireworks display, but for some veterans the sights, smells and sounds of the Fourth of July holiday bring back memories they'd much rather forget.

“If the neighbor next door all of a sudden sets off a whole bunch of fire crackers that sound like machine gun fire, that can set you diving for cover,” says retired Colonel Norman MacLellan. Col. MacLellan served two tours in Vietnam during his 30 years of active duty.

“We were being heavily shelled, heavily shelled with rocket fire, and artillery and mortar fire by the North Vietnamese,” MacLellan recalls, remembering it like it was yesterday.

“It comes to me all the time,” he says, recalling every detail. “The shrapnel that hit me in the back first went through … my harness and pistol belt.”

MacLellan was wounded twice, but it could have been worse. His regimental commander was killed in the strike. “Right next to me, a little closer to me than you are right there -- the shell that got me killed him.”

“As a Veterans Service Advocate for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I work with a number of veterans with PTSD,” says U.S. Army retired Lieutenant Colonel Lee Kichen.

“Research and my personal experience really has hammered home the notion of triggers,” kichen says. “It can be any number of triggers; it's really based upon the … soldier’s experience.”

Fireworks often sounds like a mortar round going off. For some veterans, the trigger is certain smells, such as JP 4 fuel for helicopters, or diesel for tanks. It depends on the situation and the individual involved.