Fourth of July fireworks can be a trigger for veterans with PTSD, these apps can help

Here's how technology can help veterans

During the Fourth of July weekend, the fireworks can be a trigger for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center says less than 50% of veterans with PTSD are actually getting help for it, so they recommend downloading some smartphone apps to help identify triggers and helpful resources.

You don’t have to be a VA patient, you don’t even have to be a veteran to use the apps -- PTSD Coach and PTSD Family.

“One of the things I love about this app is that you can remain anonymous,” said Timothy Stroud, United States Army Combat Medic Specialist.

Stroud said he uses the app once or twice a week.

“You hear the alarm, it triggers you, or there’s an accident or you hear fireworks over the Fourth of July and you get that trigger and you’re like, ‘what do I do?’” he said. “Now you’ve got a reminder that’s there. And one of the things I also love about it is that it’s not just the activities here, you can connect with some of the other veteran service organizations.”

While the information you insert doesn’t go anywhere (it’s private), a psychologist with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Dr. Jan Lindsay, said it will track your patterns and behavior to help you identify triggers. She said she sees veterans engaging in the apps for mostly three reasons.

“Some folks use it before to understand what therapy’s going to be like, some people use it during the therapy, and others like to use it after the therapy has finished,” Dr. Lindsay said.

Although she’s not convinced apps can be used on their own, Dr. Lindsay said it’s best to couple the apps with therapy sessions, which can also be done through your phone even with family or partners.

Symptoms that may indicate these exercises are needed include:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Quick to anger
  • Panic attacks

It’s important to remember treatment for PTSD is typically a few months, not forever. Dr. Lindsey said after therapy is over then patients may choose to use the apps to reinforce progress and coping skills.