Late-Onset PTSD a Growing Concern

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Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

We often think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a condition affecting younger servicemen and women soon after they return home from deployments. But the aging population is illuminating for us just how persistent PTSD can be.

The average age of Vietnam veterans is 64. That means that many of them are retired or are nearing retirement, which introduces a whole new set of challenges that can trigger PTSD decades after combat. As a result, VA hospitals are seeing an influx of older veterans seeking treatment for PTSD symptoms that only recently emerged.


Consider some of these major life changes that can serve as triggers for late-onset PTSD:

  • Retirement. For many, work was a convenient distraction from the events experienced during wartime. But once retired, the Vietnam veteran has more time to reflect on events from the past.
  • Health problems. While certainly not a guarantee of aging, some veterans will experience major health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer which may force them to confront the possibility of death yet again.
  • Reunions. While joyful and absolutely recommended for social support, reunions with other veterans still can shore up memories of horrific events that occurred during deployments – events that had not been thought about on a conscious level for years.
  • Deaths. Experiencing losses such as the deaths of spouses, other family members, friends, and pets can trigger feelings of survivor’s guilt that the veteran had not felt in a long time.

The good news is that the Veterans Administration is aware of this trend and offers services to help veterans who may be experiencing late-onset PTSD. Here are some of the services they offer:

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  • Assessment and diagnosis. The first step is to make an appointment with a psychologist for a thorough assessment to see if late-onset PTSD is indeed an appropriate diagnosis. The psychologist can then refer the veteran to specific services.
  • Group therapy. Many VA hospitals offer group psychotherapy to help veterans with late-onset PTSD process their symptoms, give and receive support from others, and learn new coping skills.
  • Individual therapy. Oftentimes, one-on-one treatment is helpful either alone or alongside group treatment.

PTSD is treatable, so veterans are urged to seek help no matter when their symptoms begin.  Find your local VA hospital or Vet center.


Mastony, C. (November 11, 2013). PTSD hits aging veterans: Life changes, like retirement, have some soldiers who served in Vietnam seeking out treatment for nightmares, flashbacks. Chicago Tribune (Online Kindle version).

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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