Pontifications

Signs, Of Veteran Entitlement.

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Earlier in Independence Week we published this piece partially about the now-controversial fireworks signs. It caused some strong reactions, even among our minions. Hernandez now expands upon the signs, entitlement, and victimhood. Mad Duo
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Signs, Of Veteran Entitlement.
Chris Hernandez

I won’t go into too much detail, since I’m sure most of you have heard of this already. But apparently some veterans are so traumatized by their wartime service they’re asking people to “be courteous with fireworks” around their homes on July 4th. Because fireworks “trigger” their PTSD.

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These signs are being popularized by an organization called “Military with PTSD”, which according to CNN has sent the signs to 2500 veterans and has 3000 more on a waiting list. According to the organization’s founder, the signs aren’t intended to make people stop using fireworks, they’re just asking people to be “courteous”. “No veteran that served the United States wants to take a freedom away from people, especially fireworks, which represent freedom,” she said. “They don’t want them to stop. What they’re asking for is for people to give them a heads up.”

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY. Isn’t that heads up enough? Are these signs about “helping vets with PTSD”, or catering to some veterans’ sense of entitlement?

As a combat vet myself, I’ve had – to say the least – a strong reaction to these signs. My gut feeling was something along the lines of, “This is ridiculous. These signs don’t have anything to do with treating PTSD, they’re just a way for some veterans to beg for attention and be special snowflakes.” But I try to be fair, and realize my experiences have given me significant biases. So I tried to rationally analyze the pros and cons of putting those signs in veterans’ yards.

And after careful consideration, I can only conclude that these signs are pathetic, self-defeating crap.

John Adams wrote in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence ought to be celebrated with fireworks. I haven’t found a record of fireworks being used to celebrate in 1776; however, we’ve celebrated with fireworks since literally the first Independence Day commemoration in 1777. We did it while we were at war for our very existence, yet the men who survived massed musket fire and bayonet charges managed to endure fireworks displays without putting “pleafe be ye courteouf with ye olde firework” signs in their front yards.

It goes without saying, or at least it should, that past generations of American warriors experienced combat far worse than that of the typical Iraq or Afghanistan veteran. Yes, today’s warriors have fought some hard fights (Fallujah, Najaf and Sangin come to mind). But in terms of scale, casualties and intensity our wars have been different than many before. We haven’t endured three or four thousand KIAs in a single day like at Normandy and Antietam, or two thousand in 76 hours as at Tarawa. Yet the men who crossed sabers on Civil War battlefields or waded through surf, blood and dead comrades to a beach swept with machinegun bullets and shellfire somehow endured fireworks displays without putting signs in their yards.

What makes veterans of today’s wars different?

We’re not draftees. We’re volunteers. Anyone who enlisted or reenlisted after 9/11 volunteered for military service while our nation was at war. We went to war because of the choices we made, and many of us went back to war because of those same choices. Some veterans consider that wartime service an honor and privilege; the more intense the combat, the greater the honor and privilege.

And we see a growing divide not just between veterans and civilians, but between distinct groups of veterans. Some feel our service made us stronger and more resilient; others see themselves as damaged, and want everyone to know they’re damaged. At least 5500 of them want to advertise their problems to their neighbors, and some of those posted their photos on the internet to share their problems with the world. The cognitive dissonance displayed in some of those photos is astounding; maybe it’s just me, but I see a slight contradiction between someone saying they’re a hardened combat vet yet are uncomfortable with fireworks.

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This photo is almost perfect. What’s better than advertising “I’m a combat vet with PTSD, I’m armed and I might react irrationally to fireworks”? The only way to improve it is to add a bottle of whiskey, to achieve the “drunken vet with PTSD and a gun” trifecta.

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I have to ask, what do these “combat veterans” expect to actually accomplish with these signs? At best, their close neighbors might see the signs and refrain from using fireworks. But what about the neighbors one street over? What about the people who live ten houses down, never drive past the combat vet’s house and have no idea he’s sensitive to fireworks? Some fireworks can be seen and heard from literally miles away; is the sign going to somehow protect the veteran from fireworks in other neighborhoods?

Sure, these vets “aren’t asking anyone not to use fireworks”. Right. How is one “courteous” with fireworks, short of not using them? Rules and expectations regarding fireworks are already in place: don’t shoot them at other people’s houses, don’t use them in the middle of the night, don’t use them to intentionally bother people. Those rules apply to everyone. We don’t need signs reminding people not to be douches with fireworks.

God forbid these veterans hear unexpected thunder someday. Maybe they should put up a sign saying “Combat veteran lives here. No thunder allowed.”

So other than shouting “I’m damaged and special”, the signs accomplish nothing. And who are we combat vets to ask anyone to change what they do on July 4th? The “I proudly served in combat and I’m better for it” crowd isn’t asking America to change 239 years of tradition. Most of us miss combat, and love fireworks because they remind us of battle.

This meme has recently started floating around the internet, origin unknown.
This meme has recently started floating around the internet, origin unknown.

We wouldn’t ask our neighbors to refrain from using the fireworks we’ve loved since childhood. That would be ridiculous and selfish. We served our nation, we don’t expect it to serve our sensitivities. But the “I’m damaged and special” group sees things differently.

My cynicism strongly suggests to me that the majority of these “combat vets” aren’t combat vets at all. If their service records were examined, I’d expect to learn that most never left the wire, were subjected to sporadic and wildly inaccurate rocket and mortar fire while stationed on a huge FOB, and since returning home have milked the “traumatized veteran” myth for all its worth. That myth is easy to milk; “how to fake PTSD” discussions are online, with gems of wisdom such as,

“It is hard to get diagnosed with PTSD. However, if you act crazy enough you’ll eventually get it. I beat my wife a few times, got a few DUIs, went crazy on a few people including police officers and I got me a big montly check. Now I hang out at the gym, drink beers in the evening and got to counseling every once in a while to prove that I’m still crazy. Since I am almost 100% PTSD people expect me to act crazy so I get away with a few things. Don’t give up and you’ll get your check.”

And keep in mind you don’t even have to experience trauma to be diagnosed by the VA with PTSD. A rule passed by the VA in 2010 “…establishes that noninfantry personnel can qualify for PTSD disability if they had good reason to fear danger, such as firefights or explosions, even if they did not actually experience it.” (https://www.aei.org/publication/ptsds-diagnostic-trap/). Because of that rule, among other reasons, if I ever see one of these signs in a front yard my first thought will be “He was probably never in actual combat and is just doing this for attention” instead of “that poor warrior fought in so many battles he can’t even be around fireworks anymore”.

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Of course, because I wrote this I’ll be accused of not supporting veterans with PTSD, and will likely receive comments suggesting people like me are to blame for veteran suicides. So I’ll address that nonsense now. First, I think anyone with problems should get help for those problems. I mean actual, professional help, rather than engage in attention-seeking behavior that reeks of entitlement. I don’t believe for a second that these signs help anyone with anything, and are actually harmful because they reinforce myths and stigma instead of urging PTSD patients to overcome their problems. I don’t think “garner as much pity as possible” is a step in healing PTSD.

And I’m pushing veterans to commit suicide? Bullshit. The “those war veterans are all sick in the head and you have to be careful around them” lie is. Recall the CNN article I referenced earlier. The title is “How combat veterans are coping with July Fourth fireworks”. Not some combat veterans, not a few combat veterans, but combat veterans period. That headline, and the myth that goes with it, convinces people that we all have problems, rather than acknowledging that most combat vets “cope” with July 4th by lighting fireworks at a barbecue.

Next, I’ll get the inevitable “You can’t compare one veteran’s trauma with another’s” comment. YES, I CAN. It is the height of stupidity to suggest a soldier who literally heard one rocket impact miles away one time suffered the same level of trauma as those who kicked doors in and shot enemy in the face as friends were killed around them. Being traumatized by the possibility of an IED attack that never happened doesn’t equal my experience with IED close calls and long-range firefights, and my experience doesn’t equal those of Marines who fought their way through Hue City. And it’s not just me saying this; even the VA acknowledges not all combat experience is the same, and uses a Combat Exposure Scale to evaluate wartime trauma. In my experience, the people screaming “You can’t judge my combat experience” are the ones who have the least.

No, I’m not saying every last veteran with these signs is full of crap (although my tone sure suggests it). Nor am I saying PTSD doesn’t cause real, verifiable problems and sensitivities to things like fireworks. I am saying, however, that our personal problems are not the general public’s responsibility. If we have issues we need to handle them ourselves, not expect our communities to change their behavior for us.

Every veteran who handles his issues wins a victory that helps us all. Every veteran who embraces victimhood and displays a sense of entitlement reinforces damaging stereotypes that hurt us all. So burn those stupid fucking signs, light some fireworks, and be grateful that your neighbors still celebrate our independence the way we have for over two hundred years.
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www.breachbangclear.com_site_images_Chris_Hernandez_Author_BreachBangClear4Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

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220 Comments

  1. It seems to be that many on here have no idea what PTSD can do to a person. My Daughter and I suffer through the two weeks surrounding the 4th of July. It sounds like bombs going off that literally shake my walls and windows and goes on every night far into the morning for two weeks or more. Having been in prolonged combat, to include a last stand that might have ended my life if not for a last minute appearance of air support, and having PTSD I can tell you that I hate that time period. I don’t have sign on my front lawn nor to I make a big deal out of my service, but seeing some of the remarks on this stream shows just how uneducated and outright stupid some folks can be. You don’t know shit, haven’t done shit and then run your fucking mouth on a forum like this. The FAGS running their mouths about PTSD and “Manning up” are just that, never been anyway, never did anything and probably had their face buried in their life partners lap on some large base.

  2. Well spoken. I served in Afghanistan and will never say it wasn’t hard being away from my family but that was it for me. I was a motor sergeant on KAF and only left once to a FOB for 4 days. I was artillery for 6 yrs and one firemens fair we fired blanks. We were not notfied that one of the firefighters had shell shock from Vietnam. When we fired the first round several firefighters came running out to tell us don’t fire another yet. The veteran had hit the floor and started crawling under the tables set up in the firehouse.
    Needless to say they calmed him down we got to apologize and he went home for a few hours when we fired off each day and night the event went on.

    1. Harry,

      Do you think fireworks were the problem?

      If fireworks “cause” veterans with PTSD to kill themselves, why didn’t we have massive waves of veteran suicides on July 4th and New Year’s after WW1, or WW2, or Korea, or Vietnam, or any previous (or later) wars?

      Kraft obviously had a problem that wasn’t properly addressed. If he was so fragile that simply hearing fireworks caused him to commit suicide, he needed more help than a sign in his yard.

      You might also notice that the article says he wasn’t at home when he heard the fireworks. So should everyone everywhere within hearing distance of wherever Kreft might have been stopped using fireworks? Is that reasonable to ask? Is it likely to work?

      I don’t want to see anyone commit suicide either. But putting an ineffective sign in a yard isn’t going to save anyone’s life.

  3. I tell you what good the sign does…In my neighborhood in my small Alaskan community, people usually start setting off fireworks at random times starting a month or so before the 4th. Then the continue on at random times for several weeks after the 4th. Also, it seems that each year the fireworks getbigger and louder. I am not a vet but I was involved in a shooting once and I’ve always loved fireworks on the 4th but dreaded the lead up to the 4th and the few weeks afterwards because the shots are unexpected. This year a vet put up a sign 2 doors down from me and this year we had about 75% fewer pre and post 4th of July fireworks. I know it was the sign because I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 17 years. People changed their behavior out of respect, something I think we owe them…and maybe (her) PTSD is fake and she only an attention seeker, but personally I am not one to judge another person’s needs. I can choose to accomodate their request or not. I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

    1. I concede that a sign appears to have had an effect in a small Alaskan community. I doubt such a sign would have any effect in my community, but a small rural neighborhood is different. And effective in your case or not, I still don’t believe we have any standing to ask anyone to change their normal and innocent behavior in order to cater to our sensitivities.

      I also have to ask, are gunshots common around your small Alaskan community?

  4. All I want to say is Thank You so much for your service so that I can choose to (or not to) shoot fireworks very courteously around my neighbors who may or may not be combat veterans… That’s really what it’s all about isn’t it? Each one of the brave men and women that have served this country, served to save our freedom, served so we COULD choose to post what we feel, shoot fireworks and live free! So, thank you again for your service, your sacrifice.

  5. Do some research. The signs are not about the 4th of July they are for every other day of the year. As you stated our independence should be celebrated with fireworks. Awesome. I light them. What about the other 364 days they go off when we are not expecting them.

    1. So these signs are up 24/7/365?

      Why did Military with PTSD distribute them for the 4th of July, if they’re for every day of every month?

  6. I agreed with a large part of this article, I get so tired of hearing the war stories from posers looking for attention. Ptsd is real and it is dangerous if not treated but I get so angry when I hear stories of how people played the system to get the diagnosis. After getting blown up and spending many months in the hospital recovering ptsd is the only diagnosis I fought. I’ll admit it now because it made me lose so much like my family and such, but as far as me expecting society to change for me, that is out of the question. I don’t go out and celebrate with fireworks on the 4th. I like the sparkly ones but the mortars are still a little much, so what do I do about it. I but then for my children and I let them go celebrate. I stay inside and watch tv. The sound of a far off boom doesn’t make me go crazy but the up close ones make me uncomfortable. It was the last thing I heard before I was torn apart. But I still remember how much I used to love them and would never ask anybody to refrain from using them just because of me. Why would I go from selfless service to selfish serve me? I want America to celebrate, celebrate loud and long, enjoy the time of year however you want, but at the same time don’t judge me just because I prefer not to. As far as those signs go, it’s retarded. I don’t want to be identified as the psycho vet that lives in our block. Why would you ever draw attention to yourself. Wasn’t the key to being a good soldier a strong show of force? Not a deliberate show of weakness. But then again this is just me and my experiences, there will always be those profile jockeys, and those punk ass posers.

    1. Clay,

      Thanks for your comment and service, and I hope you continue to heal. A good friend of mine went through the same thing, his humvee was blown in half by a large buried IED that killed two of his friends. That happened in 09, and he’s still recovering.

  7. Our dear servicemen! I stood at the air port on a day when hundreds of you left! I cried for the risk your family took by letting you go! I watched them cry and I heard them say it was to make it safer for there’re younger brothers and sisters and instead they came home all whacked out and scared the living hell out of the kids the were saying with great pride they were trying to save. Is this the way you show love? If they need help get them help if fireworks scare them then don’t send them home they need help not signs. Fight to help the don’t know what if anything I could do but I will do what is asked! I was so lucky not to have brothers to go and my boys missed the draft! But I can help I can do my part right here! Just ask

  8. Being ready for the Fourth is one thing. I EXPECT fireworks on July 4th and New Years Eve. What is a struggle is when I’m sitting on my back deck, ten days or more BEFORE the holiday and shit starts blowing up around my house. There is no sign in front of my house but I would be grateful for just a little heads up. I’ll be more than happy to put in my headphones and crank em up and I do like the light show. Instead, I hit the wood and rolled under the table,nobody else but my dog to seek attention from (and he was down there with me). I cussed myself for being a fuckin jumpy asshat, picked myself up and went inside for an ice pack. MaybMaybe that’s the courtesy the sign is asking for.

    1. Dee, I’m not saying people shouldn’t be courteous. But the public in general isn’t going to change their normal behavior for you.

      Do you think a sign would stop anyone from popping fireworks before and after the 4th?

  9. Chris,
    Thank You, for writing about us, & for caring enough to get the word out there regarding Vets, PTSD, & Fireworks..
    I, myself, dread seeing the 4th of July for that very reason. It does not take very much to trigger my PTSD @ all, but having to hear Fireworks constantly going off for 3 solid days, more that triggers & sets my PTSD off!
    Chris, Thank You for everything you have done & continue to do, & Thank You for being the person you are. The world needs more people like You!
    #ArmyStrong

    1. Chris,
      I do agree w/ you about the Signs.. I, myself, have Never posted any signs, however I do HATE Fireworks. Have I gone or would I go to see them, Yes.. They are Beautiful to watch if you are on the water bc you can NOT HEAR THEM!
      YES, my PTSD is more than triggered & YES hearing the pop pop popping sounds do trigger FlashBacks.. But, I also have a fellow Vet friend of mine, who’s PTSD is so so MUCH WORSE than mine, to the point that he has his home ( Front & Back ) “Rigged” for anyone who “Approaches” ~ unless he knows ahead of time that you are coming!!
      I also more than have EXTREME SLEEP ISSUES bc of the PTSD! I DO NOT SLEEP, & when I do manage to sleep, the slightest sound will wake me up!
      Thank You, Again…
      #ArmyStrong

    1. Donald,

      I read that story this morning. Let me ask you a few questions:

      1) Do you think the fireworks were the cause or proximate cause of his suicide?

      2) Are the people who used fireworks around him responsible for his death? Should they be punished?

      3) What good do you think the signs would have done in this case? According to the article, Mike Kreft wasn’t at home when he heard fireworks. “Jon Kreft says he and his brother Mike were in a bar playing pool, when Mike, an Army Combat veteran, began hearing fireworks.”

      One thing I specifically mentioned in my essay is that there is no way to get all your neighbors to stop using fireworks. A sign won’t be seen or heeded by everyone who sees it. Should Kreft’s PTSD have been handled by expecting everyone around his house and the bar he was at to stop using fireworks, or for him to get the professional help he obviously needed?

      Be as mad as you want at me. I’m telling people who need help to get help, instead of supporting the use of a sign that accomplishes nothing at all.

  10. I am a combat vet. I have PTSD. I love fireworks and I miss combat. I have disabled veteran played on my vehicle because, Damnit, I got blown up and occasionally I have to walk with a cane. Fireworks really only affect me when I’m asleep. They trigger nightmares sometimes and that makes me dangerous to be around for my wife who is significantly smaller than me. (I thrash.) Does this stop us from going camping every year at my reservation for my tribes annual pow wow? No. I just take my sleep aid and sleep in the other tent. I have no sign in my yard. When I’m aware and awake, I LOVE fireworks.
    I’m with you on this one buddy. SCOUTS OUT!!