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More Stress Than Celebration

Fourth of July can be challenging for combat veterans

4th of July fireworks can trigger painful memories for combat veterans.

By Ben Feldheim

Veterans of the U.S. generally are deeply patriotic, but the celebration of the country’s birthday on the Fourth of July can be upsetting for many of them. The explosion of fireworks across the sky may trigger painful memories of the warfare they haven’t been able to leave behind entirely.

“Big production firework shows feel and sound like artillery barrages. Bottle rockets sound like AK-47 fire, and Roman candles look like RPGs,” says Chris Miller, a Marine who served in Iraq. “Driving through neighborhoods can feel like war zones when M-80s and Black Cats are popping off in every yard.”

Fireworks are just one example of the serious difficulties that military personnel from every branch can face when returning to civilian life, regardless of their experiences while serving. Veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared to the general population of the United States, according the American College of Epidemiology.

Family and friends of veterans suffer alongside them, struggling to help their loved ones find peace and comfort. With every new military conflict, new issues arise.

“At least half of our veterans are not receiving the care they need to address their mental health,” says Mark Pollack, MD, chairman of the Rush Department of Psychiatry. “Rates of depression, anxiety and other behavioral and psychological disturbances also have increased substantially among the children of veterans since our involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Offering the Road Home

Building upon relationships with a range of military and community providers throughout the Chicago area, Rush partnered with veterans to find a solution, one that can adapt and evolve to the growing array of challenges faced by service personnel and their loved ones. The Road Home Program at the Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush opened in 2014, and to date has treated nearly 200 veterans and family members for a range of issues related to their military service.

These conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, child and family counseling, and other specific psychological and emotional needs.

Road Home also offers public awareness programming and training for primary care physicians and others to more effectively understand the symptoms of combat injuries and treat military personnel.

Several aspects set Road Home apart from many other veterans’ service providers. “We recognize family from an open and expansive perspective. A neighbor or friend could be part of a veteran’s family, as well as parents, spouses and children,” says Will Beiersdorf, the program’s executive director.

The Road Home Program is flexible and willing to craft services specific to veterans’ needs. Services at Road Home are provided regardless of the ability to pay or discharge status. “If a man or woman has put on the uniform, we will try to help him or her,” Beiersdorf says.

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