Warrior Care Network helps make enjoying fireworks a reality for veterans suffering from PTSD

marine fireworks 4th of july

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment watch the firework finale during the Landers Independence Day Celebration in Landers Calif., July 3, 2015. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Connor Hancock)

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — People-watching is a way to pass the time and enjoy your surroundings, whether it be at a shopping center, park, or busy city sidewalk. For Marine Corps veteran Joe Merritt, it triggered too many reactions.

“I would position myself against a wall or as close to it as possible,” Joe said. “I was on alert, scanning the crowd for nonexistent threats. I was uncomfortable.”

Joe lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for at least a decade before reached out for clinical help. Warrior Care Network is an innovative partnership between Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), four top academic medical centers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Through this collaboration, warriors experience up to a year’s worth of therapy in two- to three-week intensive outpatient programs. Joe received treatment at Emory Healthcare Veterans Program in Atlanta.

“It was like a rebuilding,” Joe said. “I talked about specific traumas in detail I had never shared before. Prolonged exposure therapy drew out raw, primal emotions; I remembered things I had not recalled in a long time.”

During treatment, a clinical expert gets to the root of traumatic experiences.

“It was the hardest thing emotionally I have ever done. Mentally and emotionally exhausting. It took a lot out of me, in a good way.”

As part of Joe’s recovery at Emory’s Veterans Program, he experienced in vivo exposure therapy. He went to a busy part of Atlanta for lunch on several occasions.

“The first couple times created anxiety, but I got more and more comfortable with each visit.”

Joe said he has noticed a different level of calmness in himself; so has his wife.

“I have gotten upset, but not like I used to. I can feel a difference in my thinking. I attribute a lot of that to Warrior Care Network and Emory.”

Now Joe has another goal in mind.

“I have not been able to see a fireworks display in more than a decade. I plan to change that this Independence Day.”

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