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? It can be a confusing and discouraging experience, but you must know it is completely normal, especially for veterans! You may be experiencing Delayed Onset PTSD. Delayed onset PTSD is exactly what it sounds like: PTSD that does not surface immediately following a trauma, but instead emerges further down the road.
How does Delayed Onset PTSD Occur?
Delayed onset PTSD is often the result of going through similar traumas as to what a veteran experienced during service. It 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 chose to go to the beach. Hearing fireworks at the beach could easily bring you back to feeling as though you are experiencing gunfire back in the hot deserts of Kuwait. Now cars backfiring, fire alarms, and other loud noises bring about a panic attack although they never had 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 walking the streets of Vietnam. Now the mention of Chinese food induces panic and fear, although you never had this problem ordering take out.
- You were watching the news and saw that there was recently a hostage situation overseas. Your heart starts racing, you break a sweat, and you begin having nightmares every night about 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. Any 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?
It is important to note that experiencing one panic attack or one episode of dissociation does not imply a diagnosis of PTSD. It is vital to speak with your medical provider if these panic symptoms continue, and the doctor will be able to officially diagnose a condition. In order to be service-connected for PTSD, you must have a current diagnosis of PTSD from a doctor or mental health provider, there had to have been a stressing incident in service, and there must be a link between your current diagnosis and the incident in service. It also helps to actively be seeking mental health treatment to substantiate your claim.
A common hurdle that makes service-connecting PTSD harder for older veterans is the frequency of co-existing medical issues. Symptoms of PTSD can be misinterpreted as symptoms for 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!