Delayed Onset PTSD
What happens when your mental health was fine for decades after the military, but one day twenty years down the road, it feels like you’re back in a war zone?
This can be a confusing and discouraging experience, but you must know it is completely normal, especially for veterans!
You may be experiencing delayed-onset post traumatic stress disorder. Delayed onset PTSD is exactly what it sounds like: PTSD that does not surface immediately following a traumatic event, but instead emerges further down the road.
What Is Delayed-Onset PTSD?
Delayed-onset PTSD is PTSD that occurs six months or more after the traumatic event. However, in many cases, the onset of symptoms doesn’t occur for years or even decades.
While researchers are yet to determine the exact risk factors of delayed-onset PTSD, there are a few reasons why PTSD symptoms may worsen with age. According to the VA, these reasons include:
- Retiring from work, thus having fewer distractions and more time to think
- Experiencing more medical issues
- Watching footage of current wars on the news and television
- Trying to cope with stress with substances like alcohol (stopping substance use could make symptoms seem worse)
While these are just some of the factors that play into delayed-onset PTSD, these symptoms can appear at any time for a multitude of reasons.
How Does Delayed-Onset PTSD Occur?
Delayed onset PTSD often occurs when a veteran experiences similar traumas as to what they experienced during service. To put it in other words, the condition is often described as PTSD that is triggered by a trauma index that mocks the trauma experienced during service.
To understand this concept better, let’s take a look at some examples:
- You celebrated the Fourth of July every year secluded at your favorite campground in the mountains without any problems, but this year you chose to go to the beach. Hearing fireworks at the beach could easily bring you back to feeling as though you were experiencing gunfire back in the hot deserts of Kuwait as a combat veteran. Now, cars backfiring, fire alarms, and other loud noises trigger a panic attack, even if they never have before.
- You went out to eat at a Chinese Restaurant for your granddaughter’s birthday. After hearing the waiter’s accent, you experienced panic and felt as though you had been transported back to the streets of Vietnam. You may have experienced flashbacks. Now the mention of Chinese food induces panic and fear, although you never had this problem ordering take out before.
- You were watching the news and saw that there was recently a hostage situation overseas. You start experiencing stress reactions. Your heart starts racing, you break into a sweat, and you begin having nightmares every night about an incident when someone in your deployment had been held captive and later killed. The feelings of guilt set in, and you relive the moment every night after that viewing that newscast.
There is no limit as to what may trigger a delayed onset of PTSD. Your PTSD symptoms may appear at any time. Any life stressor or trauma-related experience can trigger a “fight or flight” response, especially if a similar situation had triggered that panic previously. Every case is different, and every trauma is different, but that does not make your experience any less real than someone else’s.
Do I Qualify for Service Connection for Delayed-Onset PTSD?
War veterans with delayed-onset PTSD can still receive VA benefits. It doesn’t matter how long ago the traumatic experience occurred. To qualify for service connection, veterans with cases of delayed-onset PTSD need to meet the requirements for all PTSD cases.
In order to be service-connected for PTSD, you must have several factors present:
- A current diagnosis of PTSD from a doctor or mental health provider
- An in-service event (stressor)
- A medical nexus showing a link between your current diagnosis and the in-service incident
It is important to note that experiencing one panic attack or one episode of dissociation does not imply a diagnosis of PTSD, nor would it meet the diagnostic criteria.
It is vital to speak with your medical provider if these panic symptoms continue, and the doctor will be able to officially reach a PTSD diagnosis. Healthcare providers use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, to diagnosis PTSD.
Obstacles for Older Veterans
A common hurdle that makes service-connecting PTSD harder for older veterans is the frequency of co-existing medical issues. Clinicians may misinterpret the symptoms of PTSD as symptoms of other diseases such as heart conditions, fatigue, high blood pressure, or gastrointestinal issues. Another concern is proving cognitive impairment is due to PTSD rather than age.
Veterans experiencing trouble sleeping, memory loss or lack of concentration may have trouble proving these symptoms are due to PTSD as aging is a common cause of cognitive impairment. Don’t let these hurdles discourage you; talk to a mental health provider if these panic symptoms continue and see if you are experiencing delayed-onset PTSD.
If you are, don’t hesitate: file a claim! If you are denied, appeal it!
Have Questions About Your PTSD Claim?
Obtaining disability compensation for PTSD can be challenging. If you’re a military veteran with delayed-onset PTSD, and the VA denied your claim or rated you lower than expected, the attorneys at Hill & Ponton may be able to help. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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