LOUISVILLE, Ky. — They are the reason we are able to celebrate the Fourth of July, but the holiday can also be hard for veterans. Fireworks can sometimes be a trigger for those struggling with PTSD.
You've probably seen the yard signs that ask neighbors to be courteous around this time of year, but a local veteran leaders believes sometimes the signs can do more harm than good.
Jeremy Harrell knows firsthand how hard life can be after serving your country.
"I'm diagnosed with PTSD from my time in the service. I went to Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003 to 2004, and I came home a totally different person. I didn't know what to do with that,” Harrell said.
He struggled for years before getting help and then giving it. He started Veteran’s Club about two years ago.
"Veteran's Club is a veterans service organization and nonprofit that helps veterans rekindle camaraderie that we had in the service,” Harrell said.
The club does that in a variety of ways including its marquee equine therapy program for veterans with TBIs and PTSD.
"Just thought that hey, if it helps one person, it'll be worth it and today, we've helped more than 1400 veterans one way or the other,” Harrell said. "I believe connection is the foundation to suicide prevention."
It is now Harrell’s life’s work and passion, which gives the Fourth of July even greater meaning for him and his experience with it over the years.
"I was a veteran who had one of those signs that said please be courteous with fireworks to accommodate a veteran who lives here. At that moment in time, I really believed that it was something that I really needed to put out there because I really thought that was the cause of the triggers. In reality, it was more than that. That was just adding to the stigma that veterans are broken and that we can't function in society anymore or we can't enjoy the things that we initially fought for. After taking initiative and going and getting help for those kinds of things, I realized that it wasn't about fireworks. It was deeper than that. So, I just want to encourage veterans this holiday season to try to step out of your comfort zone. It will be uncomfortable, but step out and try to enjoy this holiday that you fought so hard for,” Harrell said.
Harrell said getting the help he needed helped him realized he fought for this holiday and should celebrate it. Now, he wants to encourage his fellow veterans to do the same, but he realizes the journey looks different for everyone.
"I'm not here to say that your fears aren't justified because things still bother me. Noises still bother me. I understand that, and I'm not trying to be insensitive. I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't here to encourage you to get out there. Don't live in that space. Get out and enjoy your life again. Even if you're in worst frame of mind at this point, I'm telling you there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is opportunity for you to use those experiences to make an impact on the community and the people around you. I'm guarantee that because I've done it. Just know and be encouraged that on the other side of that, you will be able to enjoy these things again like you once did because I know that's the goal for veterans because I felt that for years. I just wanted to enjoy life again and live my life. This is what I fought for. Don't stigmatize yourself. Don't make yourself or anybody else believe that veterans are broken just because we have combat trauma. In fact, we're some of the most resilient people in the world,” Harrell said. “There's no time limit. I have a belief that you only lose when you quit. So, just keep plugging away and know that we love you either way."
For non-veterans, Harrell said if you are planning to shoot off fireworks at your home or neighborhood to just do it as close as possible to the actual Fourth of July. He thinks that small adjustment can make a major difference for veterans anticipating the holiday.
Click here to get involved with Veteran's Club.