VIDEO Tips for Veterans celebrating Independence Day

Cooking, Coping and Caring

For many, Independence Day brings to mind cookouts, friends and fireworks to celebrate our Nation’s independence.

If you are hosting a cookout, keep in mind there are some food safety guidelines to grilling and leaving food outdoors. “The rule of thumb is that after your food has been sitting out for two hours, it should be refrigerated, and after four days throw it away,” said Brooke Ward, VA Clinical Dietitian and MOVE Coordinator at the Salem, Virginia VAMC.

Independence Day celebrations could also trigger uneasiness and discomfort.

According to Dr. Julie Usala, a clinical psychologist specializing in PTSD treatment at the Salem VA Medical Center in Virginia, Veterans can plan ahead by letting their family and friends know if something makes them feel uncomfortable. Recognizing triggers ahead of time can help avoid bigger problems down the road. Common symptoms experienced around July 4th may include:

      • Light sensitivity to fireworks and sparklers, especially at night.
      • Strong reactions to sounds, such as fireworks and ceremonial gun and cannon fire.
      • Uneasiness or feeling on edge in crowds.
      • Feeling more jumpy or easily startled.
      • Flashbacks (feeling as if traumatic events are actually happening again), frequently in response to sounds or smells.
      • Feeling emotionally distant or cut off from family and friends during celebrations.
      • Engaging in risky behaviors, such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, in order to push away unwanted traumatic thoughts.

Practice a few self-help tips or relaxation exercises to relieve feelings of uneasiness.

For friends or family: Paying Attention

If you are hosting a 4th of July party or picnic:

  • Ask guests ahead of time if they have difficulty around the holiday.
  • Consider safe alternatives to typical Independence Day celebrations. For example, if a Veteran friend or family member is alarmed by the loud sound of fireworks, you can suggest that your group use sparklers instead.
  • Consider reducing or removing substances such as alcohol from your 4th of July events.

Dr. Usala added,“Recent research suggests that Veterans are at a much higher risk for engaging in violent behaviors if both PTSD and Substance Use Disorders are present than if either diagnosis is present alone.” Centering celebrations around activities other than alcohol consumption is recommended.

Remember to be courteous and don’t be afraid to discuss your plans with guests, friends and neighbors to ensure everyone has a happy and safe Independence Day.

More resources for Veterans and their loved ones can be found at


Tips for Veterans celebrating Independence Day



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