The psychological trauma of past events can strike a veteran at any point in his life. Many veterans will begin to display symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) soon after returning home, some service members begin to experience the first signs before they are discharged, and still more veterans will suffer nightmares or flashbacks 5, 10, or 20 years after leaving service.

Veterans can suffer from PTSD years after their wartime service is over.Many veterans who have had no psychiatric issues after leaving service may begin to relive the events of their life in the military as they get older. A veteran may suddenly begin to avoid social situations or crowded areas, become startled easily, and have trouble sleeping due to the processing of military memories. This scenario is so common that the VA has a term for it: Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS).

LOSS normally begins with a triggering life event, such as:

  • Retirement. Retired veterans have more time to think about their wartime experiences, and do not have the distraction of work to take their mind off of their memories. Retired veterans are also more likely to withdraw socially, forcing them to cope with their symptoms on their own.
  • Health problems. As people age, they are more likely to experience serious medical problems. A veteran who suffers an illness of an injury may become panicked or depressed because he is not as strong as he used to be, leading to late-onset PTSD.
  • Loss of loved ones. Veterans who lost friends during service may begin to have nightmares or other PTSD symptoms when a loved one dies years later.
  • Sobriety. Many veterans attempt to medicate themselves by using drugs or alcohol to numb their physical and emotional pain. A veteran may be forced to stop taking drugs or drinking due to health problems, leaving them unprepared to cope with their resurfacing PTSD symptoms.

What Can You Do to Get Help?

No matter how long it has been since your service ended, there are many things you can do to help relieve the stress that is interfering with your life. There are many VA health programs available at no cost to veterans, including PTSD treatment programs and disability benefits for veterans who are unable to work. To learn more about getting benefits for disabling PTSD symptoms, order our free booklet, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska