Can you receive VA benefits if you are experiencing delayed PTSD? Yes, but it may be a challenge to prove. You may need the help of an experienced veterans’ attorney to build your case.
In recent years, the VA has become more responsive to the growing evidence of what is called “delayed onset of PTSD,” defined as onset occurring at least six months after the traumatic event. However, it is not uncommon for veterans, especially combat veterans, to develop clear PTSD symptoms later in life, sometimes decades after the in-service stressors.
PTSD onset in older veterans
Why might PTSD rear its ugly head after decades without symptoms? In many cases, the PTSD was present all along but the veteran was able to cope with it until health and lifestyle changes in older age removed those coping mechanisms.
Many veterans are able to keep busy with a successful career, thus keeping distracted. Suddenly, upon retirement, there are not enough distractions to keep those thoughts away. Others cope by abusing alcohol or other substances until the doctor tells them they need to stop the substance use because of some health condition. Without chain-smoking, heavy drinking, or other substance abuse, the memories start flooding in.
At other times, the veteran may truly be fine until a trigger brings back a memory. It could be a backfiring car that sounds like gunfire. After that event, every loud noise makes them cower and feel like they are in the thick of the battle. Watching news reports about current wars can trigger past memories that now won’t go away. Even personal stressors – the death of a close friend, for instance – can bring on PTSD.
The late onset of PTSD is also closely connected with various medical conditions and deterioration of mental faculties.
Proving service connection
The challenge with late-onset PTSD is separating your symptoms from current health issues or events.
Could your flashbacks just be a part of depression brought on by your worsening health? Or could they be caused by the natural progression of lessening mental acuity, rather than an in-service event from 30 years ago?
Can you prove that your PTSD isn’t actually caused by the recent trauma that triggered it? An example might be a recent car accident you were in, which reminded you of a crash that killed your buddy while you were both deployed. Now you’re afraid to go anywhere. Can you demonstrate that your PTSD isn’t from the recent accident?
This is the challenge with late-onset PTSD. But we are experts in helping veterans craft their cases to demonstrate that the recent event was only a “trigger” that points to a clear in-service event.
And it does seem the VA is trying to help veterans in these situations. The VA has created a self-report test to help determine the severity of late-onset PTSD, called the “Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS) Scale.” The LOSS Scale asks veterans to self-report on 44 items in order to evaluate their stress levels. It is not for everyone, however: it is designed for male combat veterans ages 55 or older. But it’s a great start for many veterans.
Getting a fair rating
As with any other condition, in order to receive service-connected benefits, you will need a current diagnosis (delayed-onset PTSD); a proven in-service event, known as the stressor; and a medical nexus linking your condition to the in-service stressor.
A further challenge can be too low of a rating. The VA is notorious for under-rating mental health conditions, partly because they are not as tangible as physical conditions. There may also be the assumption that now that the veteran is retired, he doesn’t need as much compensation since he isn’t working, anyway.
At Robert B. Goss, Veterans Attorney, we’re disabled veterans, too. We have had to fight for our own VA benefits and we will fight for yours. It is our mission to help every veteran who comes to us receive the very maximum benefits possible for their service to our nation. Contact us today from anywhere in the world at (877) 425-4838 to see how we can help you.