FOURTH OF JULY TRAUMATIC FOR SOME VETS
For some veterans with PTSD, Fourth of July celebrations can sound like war
Many people are unaware that Fourth of July fireworks bursting in air and rockets’ red glare can evoke battlefield horrors among veterans. »
M any people are unaware that Fourth of July fireworks bursting in air and rockets’ red glare can evoke battlefield horrors among veterans.
It’s something that groups like Military with PTSD have tried to raise awareness about.
My own awareness was raised during interviews for my book, “Home of the Brave,” about a grassroots effort in Montrose to help military vets reintegrate into civilian life.
Among the vets I interviewed was Jared Bolhuis, who was injured weeks into his deployment in Afghanistan in 2008 when a 120-mm mortar exploded 5 feet from his truck. The concussive wave knocked Bolhuis out. Less than a month later, a 500-pound bomb exploded 40 feet from his truck. Again, Bolhuis was left temporarily unconscious.
Eventually, Bolhuis’ injuries forced him to retire from the Marines at the age of 24. As a civilian he continued to serve warriors, including a stint in Colorado helping to establish Welcome Home Montrose, now known as the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans.
Bolhuis was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The impact on the mind from the horrors of war can leave PTSD sufferers with inescapable flashbacks to traumatic events, emotional numbness, sleeplessness, and anger that is hard to control.
Bolhuis also was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The advanced armor that soldiers wear and in
which their vehicles are wrapped means they can survive onslaughts of bombs and bullets that would have killed fighters in earlier wars. But under attack, the most crucial organ is knocked against the skull and left bruised and battered. TBI can result in changes in personality and affect thinking and moods.
Imagine Bolhuis in his apartment in Montrose a few days after the Fourth of July in 2014. He’s taken the cocktail of drugs prescribed to treat his PTSD and TBI. Suddenly, he hears a knocking. Bolhuis’ medications can make him feel loopy, and he was already unnerved by the fireworks show to which he’d been unwillingly treated earlier in the week. Like something out of Poe, the tapping on his door wouldn’t stop. The more the insistent, unknown caller rapped, the less inclined Bolhuis was to answer. He hunted for his shotgun. He set it within easy reach, but did not put shells in the chamber.
“Even under the most highanxiety situation I’ve been in since I’ve been back,” he told me, “I fell into the military training on weapon safety.”
Bolhuis called the police and gave details as he might have briefed a fellow soldier. He told the dispatcher he had a gun, making it clear it was unloaded. He’d taken prescribed medication that was influencing perceptions already addled by brain injury, he added. He was a veteran, he summed up.
He stayed on the line as two officers in a police car and neared his home. By the time they arrived, the mysterious visitor had disappeared. Bolhuis told the dispatcher he was leaving his gun inside and going out to meet the police.
He made another militarystyle report to the officers. If they were impressed by his calm, they didn’t show it with their reaction. Bolhuis was arrested on suspicion of prohibited use of weapons. After a night in jail, Bolhuis hired a lawyer.
His case took three months to wend its way through the legal system. In the end, a judge threw the case out, saying Bolhuis never should have been brought before him.
Bolhuis blames himself, not the police, for his night in jail and for the months on edge that followed. It is the cops’ job to enforce the law, and they often put their lives on the line doing it, he says. He also says he wouldn’t mind if his fellow Americans laid off the fireworks in deference to their vets.
The Fourth of July, a celebration for many, can bring up bad experiences for ex-soldiers.