Holiday season can aggravate PTSD; local vet encourages awareness

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — From gift-giving to spending lots of quality time with the in-laws, Christmas can be a stressful time for anyone. But for veterans recently returning home from combat, the holidays can be almost unbearable.

Flashing lights, crowded malls, dozens of children running can trigger and flare mental health issues.

“There is nothing here in the United States that can replicate what service men and women experience in a combat theater … so simple things that we don’t think about, especially during the holiday season, like the rush of traffic, a lot of loud noises, people hustling and bustling and moving around and bumping into you … these are things normal folks would not think a second about, but for a combat veteran, they will think a second or two about that,” retired U.S. Army Colonel DJ Reyes said.

Reyes deals with veterans suffering from PTSD every day as a senior mentor and coordinator at the 13th District Circuit Veteran’s Treatment Court and knows the holidays can be extremely emotional for service vets.

“In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are a lot of very fast driving vehicles. We are always vigilant because you never know which one has an explosive on it … but to go through that experience and to come home and now you are in a crowded Walmart, during the holiday season, for some folks, especially with PTSD, it could be a little bit of a challenge,” Reyes said.

On top of those stressors outside of the home and the ones inside, many veterans are spending time with relatives they may not have seen for a long time.

“Family members remember their loved ones when they left. When vets come back, in most instances, they look the same, they may even act the same, but they have changed inside. That change is very difficult for family members to cope with,” Reyes said.

It is Reyes’ hope that as the community begins to understand the problem, they will continue to support our nation’s heroes.

“At the end of the day, we as a nation sent those men and women into war. We sent them there. If in any way, shape, form or fashion, they come back broken, it is our moral responsibility to identify that and to fix it, to heal them, rehabilitate them, reintegrate them back into the very society they swore to defend and protect,” he said.

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