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Independence booms stress some veterans

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POSTED July 4, 2014 1:26 a.m.

They’ve been known to drive dogs crazy. 

Bang. Boom. Crack. Hiss. 

Fireworks are as much a part of the Fourth of July as the patriotic placemats and the placements of flags, but the exploding aerial shells that culminate tonight in communities throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley  aren’t really for everybody.

For some, they’re a reminder of a brutal and bloody past and a time machine trip back to a place that swore they’d never return. 

Yes, fireworks affect veterans. 

According to Aaron Mallary of The Soldier’s Project – a Southern California-based non-profit that provides psychological treatment to military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – the time leading up to and following the holiday can be stressful and sometimes downright traumatic. Mallary is the national outreach and volunteer coordinator for the  organization.

And as a 20-year military veteran with a father who served in the Vietnam War, he speaks not of the clients that he sees go through the program (mostly because it’s confidential) but from experience – seeing what loud noises did to his Dad and how he finds himself on edge whenever bottle rockets or M-80s end up exploding somewhere in his neighborhood. 

“It didn’t really matter what the sound was, whether it was fireworks or a gunshot – he’d go hide for three days,” Mallary said. “I’m not that bad, but when I hear it is unsettling and it makes things very uncomfortable. You hear about people that have flashbacks and things like that. It can be a really tough time.”

The organization, which has a chapter in Sacramento, formed in 2004 after the invasion in Iraq to provide mental health services to returning veterans. It commonly receives recommendations from the overwhelmed Veterans Administration hospitals and programs and is regarded as a model for providing those with combat stress-related conditions – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is at the top of the list – with the help that they need. 

That still doesn’t mean that veterans aren’t going to inside so that they don’t have to hear the distant rumbling of fireworks or the cracking sound that comes from neighborhood kids lighting off things that they’re not supposed to. 

“I’m not upset with the kids – that’s what we used to do,” said Ripon resident John Murphy. “But those are the ones that really get you because you don’t know when they’re going to go off. I know that the city is having their show at dusk. I can close the house then – that’s easy to drown out. 

“It’s not so easy when they’re going off every five minutes, then two minutes and then seven minutes. It’s like you have to stay inside for two weeks with all of the windows closed and then you’ve got to worry about PG&E. It’s a tough time. I just wish I could enjoy it like everybody else.”

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