TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Fireworks Can Trigger PTSD

Fireworks will be going off with a bang all weekend, but for some, they cause more anxiety than celebration

You may see the signs popping up around your neighborhood this July 4—red, white and blue notices that indicate the home of a vet with the request to “Please be courteous with fireworks.”

The signs are the work of a Facebook-launched nonprofit, Military With PTSD, begun by Shawn Gourley, whose husband, Justin, served in the Navy for four years and returned with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sudden and loud noises can trigger episodes of PTSD, bringing veterans back to traumatic experiences they have lived through during their service. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20% of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year.

The signs are posted on the lawns of veterans’ homes to alert people to be more considerate when setting off fireworks in the area. According to Gourley, who spoke to CNN, the group has mailed 2,500 signs, some of which were paid for by donations and others by the vets themselves, while 3,000 people remain on a waiting list.

The signs are not meant to quash any Fourth of July celebrations, but to raise awareness that the explosive sounds, flashes of light and smell of powder may trigger unwelcome memories for some. “If you are a veteran, on the one hand July 4th should be one of the most patriotic holidays that you feel a part of,” says Dr. John Markowitz, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “On the other hand, the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air are likely to evoke traumatic memories, and you might want to hide. It’s a tricky one.”

Having advanced knowledge of a fireworks display can help some people with PTSD to better prepare and cope with any symptoms they may experience. “A big component of the startle response and PTSD is the unexpected,” says Rachel Tester, program director of the Law Enforcement, Active Duty, Emergency Responder (LEADER) Program at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. “When people are able to anticipate, they are able to put into place mechanisms they have to cope ahead of time.”

That might include things such as relaxation techniques or being able to see the fireworks show and therefore know that they’re coming, as well as having headphones, music or other distractions at the ready.

Such strategies may not work for every PTSD patient, but being more aware that the explosive celebrations of the holiday might affect those with PTSD is an important step toward ensuring that everyone can enjoy the holiday without fear, anxiety or pain.

TIME Crime

U.S. Police Killed Someone in Mental or Emotional Crisis Every 36 Hours This Year, Report Says

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Getty Images

In most cases, police were called not because of a crime but by a concerned bystander or loved one

Reporting released by the Washington Post on June 30 depicts an apparently stark reality when it comes to confrontations between police and people with mental illness in the U.S. The article draws from the newspaper’s tracking of every fatal police shooting in the country in the first six moths of 2015 — 462 in all — to present an in-depth look at those confrontations involving disturbed or distressed individuals.

During that time, police killed someone in mental or emotional crisis every 36 hours, including three men within 10 hours on April 25, the Post reports.

In most of those cases, the paper says, officers were not called to the scene because of reports of a crime but were rather responding to concerned bystanders or loved ones. Out of the 124 shootings examined in the report, 50 involved explicitly suicidal individuals. In 45 cases, police were explicitly asked for medical assistance or called after the individual had attempted to get medical assistance elsewhere. Nearly a dozen of those killed were veterans, and several suffered from PTSD.

Many of the responsible police agencies do not train their officers adequately to deal with distressed people, the article concludes. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, officers in training spend up to 60 hours learning to handle a gun and only eight hours each learning to neutralize taut situations and interact with mentally ill individuals. In fact, many of the tactics learned in training, such as shouting commands, can worsen the situation for already fragile people.

“This a national crisis,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Post. “We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.”

Read more at the Washington Post

TIME Veterans

See Powerful Photos of Wounded Warrior Athletes

More than 600,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have been left partially or totally disabled from physical or psychological wounds received during their service. Ever year, hundreds of Wounded Warriors from every branch of military service compete in a variety of sports over 10 days at the Department of Defense's Warrior Games. What they have in common is the will to overcome

TIME White House

Obama Honors Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day

Marks first Memorial Day since 9/11 without ground troops in combat

President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day to honor the men and women who have died serving in the U.S. military. Their sacrifice, he said, is “a debt we will never repay.”

Speaking in front of more than 5,000 attendees, Obama marked the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a major ground war, though a smaller American military presence remains in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This hallowed ground is more than a final resting place of heroes” Obama said. “It is a reflection of America itself. It is a reflection of our history.”

He specifically mentioned Spec. Wyatt Martin and Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Morris, who were the last two U.S. soldiers to die during combat missions in Afghanistan.

“These two men, these two heroes, if you passed them on the street you wouldn’t know that they were brothers,” Obama said. “They were bonded together to secure our liberty and keep us safe.”

More than 6,500 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in military operations that began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Additional reporting by Maya Rhodan

TIME remembrance

See 228,000 Flags Planted for Memorial Day in 1 Minute

The ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery took over 1,000 soldiers 4 hours to complete

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the distinguished Old Guard, honors the nation’s fallen soldiers each year by planting more than 228,000 American flags at every grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

The annual “Flags-In” ceremony echoes the origins of Memorial Day traditions, when both Confederate and Union soldiers decorated the graves of their fallen compatriots after the Civil War. The Old Guard has conducted this tradition yearly since 1948.

TIME contributing photographer Brooks Kraft captured this year’s ceremony on Thursday. More than 1,000 soldiers participated in the ritual over a span of four hours at the sprawling Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

TIME Veterans

How to Preserve America’s War Stories Before It’s Too Late

Dennis Martin
Dennis Keith Martin Collection / Library of Congress / Veterans History Project Dennis Martin seated, in Vietnam, ca. 1970

The Library of Congress is collecting the country's first-hand accounts of war

On June 19, 1970, Dennis Keith Martin, a U.S. Army Corporal stationed in Vietnam, wrote a letter to his grandparents. “We are hearing a lot of rumors that the 25th Division or at least part of it will be the next to be withdrawn,” he wrote, at the close of the two-page note. “We are all hoping to be involved in it but I am certainly not going to hold my breath.”

Martin was killed in action that July. Monday will be the 44th Memorial Day since then. But his letters and photographs, like the one seen here, are very much alive.

That’s because Martin’s sister, Barbara, donated them to the Veterans History Project (VHP) of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which has made them available online. The VHP was created by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000. In the 15 years since, the project has collected nearly 100,000 oral histories from veterans and their families, as well as the families of those remembered each Memorial Day. More than 15,000 of those stories and documents, the first-hand accounts of conflicts from World War I to the present day, can be accessed online.

“I feel like my brother’s experience, like so many other thousands, millions, of people in warfare—it’s such a great loss, and what for? Seeing his letters there it gives some meaning to what happened,” Barbara Martin, who is now a musician in Waynesboro, Va., says. “I think that a lot of times people have a skewed viewpoint of what war really is. I think anything that can show people this is what it really is, this is the horror of it, this is the reality of it, is a very good thing.”

The VHP has done just that for people like Hetal Shah.

Shah is a 19-year-old college student in Aliso Viejo, Calif., who has been volunteering to collect oral histories for the VHP since she was 15. (Anyone can do those interviews, by downloading the how-to kit from the Library of Congress). The very first interview she did for the project was with a World War II vet who told a story of deciding not to shoot a hungry Japanese man despite orders to shoot the enemy on sight.

“When he was saying this story he was crying, not because of the man’s situation but rather because he disobeyed the orders of his commander,” Shah recalls. “That’s when it really hit me how complex war is for soldiers and all the people involved. He mentioned his family and all the struggles they faced while he was away. It made war more complex for me and it gave me all of these different perspectives that I could never learn from my history class.”

Shah has come to see her VHP interviews as something of an urgent mission. The stories of World War I that have made it to the VHP have done so through family members, the same way the stories of men and women like Dennis Martin, who were killed in action, got there. But those veterans who made it home from war are full of stories that have yet to be collected.

“I’ll never get to hear the story of a World War I veteran from his or her point of view. We lose that every time that veteran passes on, we lose their stories with them,” she says. “If veterans are not interviewed before they pass on then no one else will be able to get that same perspective and story from them. It’s very important for us to continue doing this project so that everybody, no matter when it was in history, can know how it really was.”

Her message is exactly what the VHP’s backers hope the project offers. “It’s a resource for the country in the sense that it gives us a way of tying into and understanding the experiences of Veterans, as we think about the country, as we think about the future, and as we think about future military engagements,” says William “Bro” Adams, who is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities—which is partnering with the Library of Congress to encourage veterans and the families of those killed in action to get involved with the project—and also a Vietnam veteran whose own stories are now part of the VHP archive. “These kinds of stories really give you a sense of things that no other form of recollection can give you.”

TIME Innovation

Why Doubling the Value of Food Stamps Helps Families Eat Better

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Want to help poor families get healthy food? Double the value of food stamps.

By Jay Cassano in Fast Co.Exist

2. How training service dogs is giving veterans a reason to live.

By Chris Peak in Time

3. Can saltwater quench our growing thirst?

By Brian Bienkowski in Ensia

4. High school sets up autistic kids to fail when they reach college. Here’s how to fix the problem.

By Noel Murray in Vox

5. The next big idea for ending poverty is thinking small.

By Jacob Lief in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How Dogs Are Giving Veterans a Reason to Live

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Getty Images

A dog's love can cure anything — including PTSD

Phil Ruddock had trouble adjusting when he returned home to rural Louisiana, disabled by a traumatic brain injury he received during an Air Force tour of duty during Desert Storm. He had all the classic symptoms of PTSD: “I drank all the time, I couldn’t get along with anyone, I kept checking every room in the house to make sure it was clear every time I came home, I got up and checked the locks on the doors and windows too many times to count, I was always depressed and pissed at the world, and I never slept. I drove my family so crazy that they wanted to leave,” he says with a country twang. “I still do some of those things,” he adds, “but it’s getting better.”

Sit. Stay. Lie down. They’re the words that helped him through his recovery.

Ruddock’s now assisting other veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the same way he survived his night terrors and flashbacks — with service dogs. His nonprofit Brothers and Sisters in Arms is a boot camp of sorts based out of central Louisiana, where he’s teaching veterans to train their own service dogs, all adopted from shelters. The repetitive learning of commands works like physical therapy for disabled vets and gives them something to work towards. Once they’ve completed the program, they gain a loyal companion and a sense of accomplishment, “a pride that you can’t imagine,” Ruddock says.

“When a soldier is deployed or on base, they feel secure because they have all the other soldiers there watching their back. But when they are out of the military, when their spouse goes to work, their kids go to school and they’re left alone, they have nobody watching their back,” Ruddock says. “It makes them very anxious, paranoid. A dog turns out to be their battle buddy and watches their back. It never leaves them, it never judges them, it never asks questions that they don’t want to answer. It gives them unconditional love,” Ruddock explains.

A program connecting veterans and rescue dogs may sound cutesy, almost saccharine, but for Ruddock, it’s serious — vital even. He asks the veterans to list Brothers and Sisters in Arms as the primary contact associated with the animal’s microchip, rather than the owner’s home phone. “The suicide rate for veterans is 22 per day,” Ruddock says, about 8,000 every year. “If that dog would show up at a shelter and they ran the microchip, chances are that veteran is not going to answer his phone.”

Ruddock started the nonprofit in November 2012 after his personal experience with an abandoned pit bull. Following a nervous breakdown, he lost his job as lead clerk at the local VA outpatient clinic. His spent his days walled alone up on his remote property, until a friend arrived with a pit bull for him to train. “She was as beat up and as messed up as I was,” he remembers of his white-faced, brown-eared dog, Mia. “She kind of rescued me.” The dog sat in the passenger seat of his truck on rides into a nearby village and eventually gave him confidence to travel farther.

Within the past couple months, Ruddock logged more than 20,000 miles in his sojourns across the Sugar State, from Slidell, a town across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans that butts up against Mississippi, all the way out west to Fort Polk, an Army installation near the Texas border. Last year, he certified 31 service dogs, which are specially licensed after 120 hours in public, and 15 companion dogs.

At the pound, Ruddock seeks out the calmest dogs. “We look for dogs with a good disposition. We don’t want the ones that jump and bark and get with the other dogs,” he says. He generally avoids puppies — too much added stress — and certain breeds like German shepherds that can become overprotective if they’re not socialized regularly, but otherwise he’ll take every breed from a 20-pound Jack Russell terrier to a 200-pound mastiff.

Training sessions run one hour a week for roughly eight weeks, though he’s come to expect a few absences. “A veteran may have problems one day. Some demons may come up and he may not be able to show up. It may take a little longer,” he says.

Besides the essentials — what Ruddock calls good citizenship for canines (think: table manners for children) — the service dogs learn three main commands that are unique for handlers who still carry wounds from the battlefield. The dog learns to “block,” inserting itself into the space between the owner and somebody else so that a person keeps their distance. “Cover” sends the pup to its owner’s back or side, facing away as a kind of lookout that allows a vet to relax at, say, a counter or cash register. The last is “grounded.” If the soldier faints or has a nightmare, the dog lays on top of the owner and licks his face, prompting a welcome (if wet) return to reality.

Brothers and Sisters in Arms is different from many other groups that provide service dogs. For one, Ruddock doesn’t charge for his services or the animal. His operation is funded entirely by donations; the bill from other groups can run as high as $25,000. (“These guys get out of the military, and they’re just above poverty level. They can’t afford that,” he says.) His classes are all one-on-one, making it easier for vets who can be skittish around crowds, nervous about competition and failure. And every instructor is a former soldier, because, as Ruddock says, “There’s no better therapy than a veteran talking to another veteran.”

Ruddock wants to see the program expand across Louisiana. He’s already processing five to 10 applications a week, and he’s starting to get referrals from VA psychiatrists who can’t officially recommend a service dog but still send warriors his way. “It’s not about the fame or fortune. It’s about that feeling you get when you help somebody. The warm fuzzies, the goosebumps, whatever you want to call it,” he says of his motivations. “It’s about doing what’s right.”

It’s for the men and women, his brothers and sisters, that Ruddock keeps trekking across the bayous, working with soldiers, like the young man he met last month. “You can tell he’s had it rough,” Ruddock says. “He couldn’t even stand the sound of a loud car going by. He kept moving around and shaking. He couldn’t look you in the eye. He constantly looked down, and if he did catch your eye, it was a white stare like he could see right through you.” The man expressed no emotion, until Ruddock brought out a puppy. As if he was emerging from a daze, the man started petting the dog. He smiled, and Ruddock knew another soldier was safe.

This article originally appeared on NationSwell.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

The True Story That Inspired One of the Biggest Films of the 1940s

Family Feud
RKO Pictures / Getty Images American actors Myrna Loy (left) and Teresa Wright with Fredric March in a still from the film, 'The Best Years of Our Lives,' directed by William Wyler.

The hit movie was inspired by a story in TIME

On the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the thought of the end of World War II in Europe is likely to bring up images of packed public squares, celebrating soldiers and spontaneous kisses. But for thousands of soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II, the reality was much different. Victory in combat was followed by lingering questions about how to adjust to a home front that was literally and figuratively miles away from the realities of war. In 1946, producer Samuel Goldwyn, Sr. took inspiration from a true story to create a blockbuster film on the topic. The movie is still surprisingly relevant today and, in fact, was inspired by an article in TIME.

Though Goldwyn is best known as the G in MGM, he had nothing to do with the company—it resulted from the acquisition of his production company, Goldwyn Pictures, in 1924. Rather, he was an independent producer on the make, transforming himself from Szmuel Gelbfisz, a Polish immigrant with an explosive temper, into one of Hollywood’s most influential producers. He is credited with 139 films, including Stella Dallas, Wuthering Heights and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. During his lifetime, he was immensely successful: Part of his legendary art collection, including pieces by Picasso and Matisse, will be sold at Sotheby’s this year.

And the movie inspired by a real-life group of soldiers was one of his biggest successes of all. In 1946, he was best known for The Best Years of Our Lives, a film that was the biggest of its day—and that explored the decidedly modern issue of how veterans readjust to life after war.

Goldwyn struck on the idea for the film when he read an Aug. 7, 1944, TIME feature called “The Way Home.” The piece followed a group of Marines packed onto a train they called the “Home Again Special,” which was tasked with returning them to their hometowns after 27 months of bloody battle at places like Guadalcanal. The train’s riders wonder what will greet them as they return home—ticker-tape parades? Tearful reunions? But the reality is something much different:

The men were up early, shining their shoes, polishing their buttons. As the train pulled into Baltimore at 6:30 a.m. there was a shout: “Bring on the brass band.” There was no band nor any people, and the homecoming marines got off and walked through the silent station.

Home. The final run began…

At Philadelphia, there was just a string of taxicabs, at Jersey City, just the ferry to Manhattan. The marines silently looked at the New York skyline. Lieut. Camille Tamucci, the tough guy in charge, who had been dreaming of mounds of spaghetti, began brooding about his stomach. “It’s all tied in knots,” he said…

One marine shouted: “See you in the next war.” There was no answer. The marines shouldered their sea bags and walked away.

Goldwyn had a son in the Army when the piece appeared. Moved by the piece and its portrayal of the uncertainties that would face soldiers returning from the war, his wife Frances urged her husband to consider making a movie about how veterans readjust to post-war life. “Every family in America is part of this story,” he mused, commissioning a writer to turn the idea from article into film. He eventually spent an estimated $2.1 million (about $19 million in today’s dollars) to make the film, enlisting the likes of Myrna Loy and Hoagie Carmichael for a moving story of trauma and triumph.

The movie offers a surprisingly nuanced take on the challenges faced by returning vets. Its director, William Wyler, had combat experience of his own. He convinced Goldwyn to take a chance on Harold Russell, an untested actor whom Wyler spotted in an Army film about veterans who lost limbs in combat. In real life, Russell was equipped with two metal hooks he used in place of both hands, which were blown up in an explosives accident. On film, he can be seen using the hooks to play piano, embrace his girlfriend and perform everyday tasks. When Russell’s character returns from war, the battle has only just begun—he must struggle to accept life with a physical handicap and his misgivings about the woman who loves him anyway.

“He is no actor and no one pretends that he is, but his performance is more affecting than any professional’s could be,” TIME wrote in its review of the film. “Unlike most sure-fire movies, it was put together with good taste, honesty, wit—and even a strong suggestion of guts.”

Goldwyn saved some of the triumph for himself—The Best Years of Our Lives was a box-office hit. The film sold an estimated 55 million tickets in the United States and another 20 million in the United Kingdom, making it the most successful box office draw since Gone With the Wind. It also took home eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

But Russell, who came to represent the complicated toll that combat can take on veterans, was the real winner that night. He took home not one, but two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor and a special award “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance.” He is one of only two non-professional actors ever to bring home an Oscar.

TIME photography

See the Photographs from Vietnam That Changed a Veteran’s Life

"Looking at the pictures put me right back into the jungle as if I were a 21-year-old soldier again"

When Christopher Gaynor returned home from the Vietnam War, on Feb. 6, 1968, he didn’t leave with memories alone. He had spent his 13 months in the field artillery creating pictures, too. Untrained but inspired by combat photographers, he brought one of the era’s ubiquitous Brownie cameras—before investing $94 in an Asahi Pentax SLR—to record his experience. To develop each roll of film, he took it to the Post Exchange on the base camp, they mailed it to Kodak for processing, Kodak mailed it back to Vietnam and, finally, Gaynor mailed the pictures home.

But the world he encountered when he got back to the United States wasn’t exactly ready to look at them, and neither was he. The anti-war movement was strong and attitudes toward veterans were, he found, hostile. Before the year was up, he decided to leave the country. He spent the following years in England and Spain, and didn’t return until the year the war ended, which happened 40 years ago this month on April 30, 1975.

“I put [the photos] in a box, a box from Lavoris mouthwash. I didn’t look at them, I put them in the box, sealed it up, and they stayed in that box until 2007,” Gaynor, now 70, recalled. “I didn’t want to deal with it.”

Even after his return to the United States, decades passed before he decided that he should do something with that box. In 2007, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he thinks is related to his exposure to Agent Orange during the war, and facing an illness motivated him to think about his legacy. At the time, the VFW post on Vashon Island, Wash.—where Gaynor still lives with his husband—was sponsoring a Boy Scout troop; one of the troop members wanted to scan Gaynor’s photos as part of his Eagle Scout project. Though Gaynor admits that his expectations for the results were low, he went along with the idea.

To say that he’s glad he did would be an understatement.

“I looked at them and they all came alive again,” he said. “It was completely overwhelming. All my buddies from 40 years previously [were] looking at me from these pictures, even the guys who weren’t with us anymore. Looking at the pictures put me right back into the jungle as if I were a 21-year-old soldier again.”

Gaynor notes that most of his photos, some of which can be seen above, aren’t of the dramatic scenes familiar from war photography. Rather, he captured the off times, with soldiers relaxing, playing ball, hanging out. It was portraiture, not fighting scenes, that brought back the memories.

And it wasn’t just a matter of remembering moments long buried. After opening the box, Gaynor began to investigate his own memories, digging out the letters he had sent home. He started to talk about his experiences and began to get more involved in the VFW and the American Legion. (He is the only openly gay officer of the American Legion of whom he knows, he said.) He reached out to younger veterans who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan. He established relationship with the families of his friends who had died in Vietnam. He became a consultant on the Vietnam-reenactor documentary In Country, which is out on video on demand on April 28. Though he does not want to make any money from the images, he tried to get his exposure for his photos in order to help other veterans connect with their memories, self-publishing a book of his photos and letters from the war.

The memories and images that had been buried for decades became the opposite of hidden, motivating Gaynor to reorganize his life around a new mission.

“It’s a difficult emotional stress [to revisit that time] but I had to do it,” he says. “Finding the pictures completely changed my life. There are no words to describe how it affected me. They’ve continued to reward me and live on.”

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