For some vet­er­ans with PTSD, Fourth of July cel­e­bra­tions can sound like war

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - Images by Think­stock by Getty Images By Donna Bryson Donna Bryson is a free­lance jour­nal­ist and writer. She lives in Den­ver.

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.

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