Long Ago and Far Away: Senior Veterans Still at Risk for PTSD

Each November, our nation takes a day to remember veterans. This Veterans Day, think not only of the young warriors who have returned from recent deployments, but also of the seniors who served many years back—and still are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, roughly 15 percent of Vietnam Veterans (the youngest of that group would be in their mid-50s today) were diagnosed with PTSD during the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) in the late 1980s. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD during their lifetimes. And that was just one conflict.

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For senior veterans, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can increase with age—regardless of how many years have passed since the conflict.

 

 

As of May 2016, there were still close to 145,000 World War II veterans receiving benefits from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, in addition to almost 182,000 from the Korean Conflict and more than 1.525 million from Vietnam. That translates to many still suffering—and many of them silently.

PTSD is a mental health problem that sometimes develops following a life-threatening event like combat. Symptoms include:

  • Reliving the event through flashbacks, bad memories and/or nightmares;
  • Avoiding situations that may be reminders of the event;
  • Having more negative beliefs and feelings; and
  • Feeling keyed up/hyper-aroused.

Treatments are available and range from psychotherapy to medication. But for the senior set, symptoms may increase with age. The National Center for PTSD reports that more free time post-retirement can mean fewer distractions from unpleasant memories. In addition, medical problems and perceived lack of strength can worsen symptoms, as can negative news on the television or scenes from current wars. Some veterans tried coping with alcohol or other substances in the past, but if they’ve quit without finding new, healthier coping mechanisms, they may find themselves challenged once again.

Regardless of the age—or how many years it has been since the conflict—Haven can help. Watch for signs, talk it out and remember that time alone doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds.

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