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Fireworks trigger PTSD in local veterans

Veterans who ride horses at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center in Columbia are trying to relax.

Director Karen Grindler said she has seen improvements in veterans even if they’ve only ridden once or twice.

“One of them told us it was the first time he hadn’t thought of how he received his injury in the war,” she said.

Many of the riders have post-traumatic stress disorder and look to riding as a way to escape.

But a few weeks ago, an unexpected fireworks explosion took the relaxation and calm out of one veteran’s ride.

“For him it was something that triggered unpleasant memories,” she said. “He’s still riding around on the back of the horse but you can see that he was visibly shaken.”

For veterans with PTSD, Independence Day fireworks bring them to a place they don’t want to revisit.

Justin Coil served as a Combat Medic in Iraq. He said many of the newer fireworks sound exactly like mortar attacks in the war.

“The first time I was ever surprised by a firework I never expected it. I never had an issue with fireworks at all but I think there are similarities with the mortar attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan,” he said. “So many random mortar attacks and the fireworks made nowadays. They make a big bang.”

Cedar Creek has been alone on the property for the bulk of 25 years, but recently new developments in the area have brought new neighbors.

“There were no fireworks in the past 20 years that we’ve been here, around us, so it’s never been a problem before,” Grindler said.

Grindler said she thought the neighbors might not realize veterans rode at Cedar Creek, so she sent out letters that detailed when the center had its lessons.

“Ever since we put out the letter asking them just to refrain during lessons, we haven’t had any problems,” she said. “They’re great people that live around us.”

But Cedar Creek did cancel its Fourth of July lessons for the first time in almost 30 years to let its new neighbors celebrate the fourth with fireworks and to make sure its riders with PTSD and autism didn’t suffer from unexpected noises.

Grindler said she saw veterans posting signs around the area to alert people of their presence and Coil recommended helping a veteran if you see them visibly upset.

“So many veterans are in the civilian world these days that if you are at a display they may look a little dazed and confused and lost,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to go up and say something. I think one of the easiest ways to pull somebody out of a situation that they’re going through is put a simple hand on their shoulder or say a simple word to them.”

It is illegal to set off fireworks in the city limits, though, and police will be looking for anyone who is shooting off fireworks.

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