4th of July Fireworks a Nightmare for Shell-Shocked War Veterans


Askins' mother intervened, as is usually the case with parents of the people suffering from PTSD, experts say.

"When momma showed up, she took one look at my state of affairs and took my daughter and my gun," he said. "It was right around the Fourth of July. I set off on a mission to kill myself and almost did."

One night, he said he drank a "gallon" of Jack Daniels and a "handful of Ambien and Xanax," then miraculously woke up on the floor a full day later. "I was scared to the bones," he said.

Askins' father checked him into a VA hospital in 2011. He successfully finished a sobriety program and kept it together for six months. But New Year's Eve fireworks set him off again, reminding him of combat.

"Cherry bombs in the trash cans sounded like huge explosions," he said. "I started hoarding ammunition and weapons."

Panic attacks and another suicide attempt landed him in jail. A judge referred him to a rehab program.

"I didn't want to leave," he said. "I felt safer in jail than in the real world."

Askins sought further treatment that was successful, but he eventually contacted Maulsby, a pastor who had created Camp Hope, a mentorship program for PTSD sufferers in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the PTSD Foundation of America.

There, veterans and their families are provided interim housing and mentors to help them overcome PTSD. Two facilities house both men and women. At first, Askins was a coordinator. He became camp director six months later.

Because of the peer support, he said, Askins is confident the veterans with whom he is working will cope with the shrieking sounds of this year's Independence Day celebrations Thursday.

"We are all going to an Astros [Major League Baseball] game and sitting together in a section," he said. "There is strength in numbers. Everybody there has been a combat vet."

Phone lines will be open that night, though, for the many other veterans who are spooked by the noises.

"We answer the phones 24/7," Askins said. "If guys are having panic attacks over the Fourth of July, they can call us and we'll go to their house and hang out with them. … We'll be there to help."

Learn more about the PTSD Foundation of America on its Facebook page.

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