Understanding PTSD in Older Veterans

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Reviewed by Cassandra Crosby

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychiatric condition common among veterans who experience traumatic events like military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents or physical and sexual assault. The symptoms could appear immediately following these events or may emerge years later, as veterans get older, often intensifying with age.

Why PTSD Symptoms May Worsen with Age

PTSD symptoms can vary widely, but often include things like nightmares and flashbacks, hypervigilance and concerns with concentration and memory. Several factors can exacerbate PTSD in older veterans.

Retirement and Loss of Structure

Many veterans use work as a coping mechanism to distract themselves from traumatic memories during service. Upon retirement, the sudden lack of structure and increased free time can sometimes trigger a resurgence of PTSD symptoms. Additionally, retirement may bring feelings of loss related to identity, activities and income, further impacting their mental health.

Health Problems

As veterans age, they often face more health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and sleep apnea, among others, which can worsen PTSD symptoms. There is also a significant link between PTSD and dementia, with each condition potentially exacerbating the other.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms 

Some veterans may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with PTSD. Long-term substance abuse can lead to severe physical and mental health issues. When a veteran stops using these substances, they might experience a surge in PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks and hypervigilance.

Social Isolation

Isolation is a common issue among veterans, especially those who are suffering with PTSD or other mental health disorders. It often becomes more pronounced as they get older. Social connections are important for a healthy well-being, and older adults who lack these ties are more likely to experience cognitive decline. This isolation can significantly worsen PTSD symptoms.

What Does This Mean for My VA Disability Claim?

Understanding the progression of PTSD in older veterans is important when applying for VA disability benefits. There are two key things to consider when filing your claim.

Some PTSD Symptoms Can Show Up Later

PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after a traumatic event. If your PTSD diagnosis was initially denied due to its late onset, an independent medical opinion from a psychiatrist or psychologist might help explain the delay and validate your claim.

PTSD Symptoms Can Increase Over Time

If you are already service-connected for PTSD, it’s incredibly important to monitor any changes in your symptoms. If your symptoms worsen as you get older, you could file for an increased rating. This can be particularly relevant after significant life changes, such as retirement. 

Were you denied VA disability benefits? Have your PTSD symptoms grown worse as you got older and you’re considering an appeal for a higher rating? Contact Hill & Ponton for a free case evaluation today, and let us help you fight for the benefits you deserve.

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Content Reviewed by

Cassandra Crosby

Cassandra Crosby, Claims Advocate Avatar

Cassandra, an Accredited Agent and claims advocate for Matthew Hill & Shelly Mark’s teams, reviewed the information provided in this post.

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