Delayed Onset of PTSD in Veterans: What You Should Know

Delayed Onset of PTSD in Veterans: What You Should Know

Some Veterans develop PTSD immediately after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, like seeing a fellow service member killed in battle. However, other Veterans may not experience PTSD symptoms for some time after the trigger event. This is called delayed onset PTSD, which can be very confusing for Veterans who experience it.

This article will break down delayed-onset PTSD in Veterans, as well as what you should know and whether you qualify for disability benefits.

What Is Delayed Onset PTSD?

Delayed onset PTSD is the same as “normal” post-traumatic stress disorder. The only differentiating factor between “normal PTSD” and delayed onset PTSD is timing.

Put simply, delayed onset PTSD is PTSD that occurs sometime after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic trigger event. Here’s an example of the two types of PTSD:

  • A Veteran is seriously injured in battle. They develop PTSD immediately after receiving the injury, showcasing symptoms like sensitivity to noise or mood swings. They have “standard” PTSD
  • A Veteran is seriously injured in battle. They finish their tour of duty and return home. Everything appears normal, yet when they attend a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, the crackling, and banging of fireworks causes them to “flashback” to the traumatic incident. They develop PTSD symptoms afterward. They have “delayed onset” PTSD

Both delayed onset and standard PTSD can affect any Veteran for several reasons. Potential triggers or traumatic events include:

  • Being injured in battle or the course of one’s duties
  • Seeing someone injured or killed in any context
  • Being sexually assaulted while in the military 

Symptoms of Delayed Onset PTSD

The symptoms of delayed onset PTSD are the same as those of regular PTSD. They include but are not limited to:

  • Capacity for mood swings, including irritability, angry outbursts, and more
  • Reexperiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive recollections
  • Emotional numbness
  • Avoidance of people, places, or activities that remind the Veteran of the trauma
  • Feeling jumpy or increasingly edgy/paranoid
  • Having difficulty sleeping, including insomnia
  • Being unable to focus or concentrate

Again, the only difference between regular PTSD and delayed onset PTSD is when a Veteran starts showcasing symptoms (to themselves or others). With delayed onset PTSD, a Veteran may experience symptoms months, years, or even decades after the original traumatic event. That doesn’t make their PTSD any less valid than its counterpart.

Why Do Some Veterans Experience Delayed Onset PTSD?

It’s unknown why some Veterans experience delayed onset PTSD and others do not. Every individual is different, and people respond differently to the same stimuli or traumatic events. This comes down to things like brain chemistry, previous experiences, personality, direct involvement in the event, and so on.

However, the VA itself recognizes that many Veterans experience PTSD symptoms exclusively later in life. Many older Veterans may develop PTSD symptoms 50 or more years after their wartime experience. According to the VA, there are several potential reasons why this might be the case:

  • Retiring from work can make symptoms feel worse or more noticeable, as retired Veterans don’t have as much to focus on or distract them from things like flashbacks or PTSD symptoms
  • Ongoing or later-in-life medical problems can make Veterans feel like they aren’t as strong as they were before, increasing symptoms or making symptoms feel more severe
  • With more free time, Veterans may spend additional hours watching television or absorbing negative news events. This, in turn, can make them feel worse about the world and their lives

Whatever the case may be, Veterans who experience delayed onset PTSD need to know what their options are and how to recover disability compensation for their symptoms.

Can You Receive VA Benefits for Delayed Onset PTSD?

If you have developed delayed-onset PTSD in any capacity, and your military service caused or aggravated the PTSD, you could qualify for VA disability compensation and other benefits.

The VA recognizes PTSD as a potential service-connected disability. It does not care when you developed your symptoms so long as you can prove that you developed those symptoms because of an in-service injury, illness, or another event.

Does the Date of the Trigger Event Matter?

The date of the trigger event does not matter. For example, if you experienced combat at the age of 20, then only developed PTSD symptoms at the age of 50, it doesn’t matter to recover disability compensation or qualify for other VA benefits.

The VA does not include the date of the trigger or traumatic event in considering whether you qualify for disability benefits. It only cares whether you can provide sufficient evidence to receive service connection.

How to Get VA Disability for Delayed Onset PTSD

To get VA disability compensation for delayed onset PTSD, you will likely have to follow the same process as other Veterans with any type of PTSD.

Specifically, you should:

  • Gather evidence substantiating your delayed onset PTSD claim. Because many years can pass before you apply for benefits, the more evidence you can gather, the better. Sufficient evidence includes service records, lay statements from friends, family members, and fellow service members, and an optional nexus letter from a licensed medical professional
  • File Form 21-526EZ, the same form you need to file for any VA disability compensation. Your Veterans law attorneys can help ensure that you file the form correctly and attach all the necessary evidence to maximize your chances of receiving service connection quickly

The stronger you can make your disability benefits application, the higher the disability rating you may receive. You’ll also need to sit for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, at which point a VA-appointed physician or psychiatrist will examine you to examine your symptoms and their severity.

If your initial benefits application for delayed onset PTSD is denied, Berry Law can help you appeal that decision. Furthermore, our team can help you appeal a low disability rating if you believe it doesn’t accurately reflect the severity of your delayed onset PTSD symptoms. 

An initial denial is not necessarily the end of your journey; it could just indicate you need to provide additional evidence, for example.

VA Disability Ratings for Delayed Onset PTSD

If you qualify for VA disability compensation for your delayed onset PTSD, you will receive a disability rating between 0% and 100%, depending on severity.

For example, if you have suicidal ideation, you may receive a disability rating of 70%. Your disability rating will be the same for delayed onset PTSD as it would be for “regular” PTSD. Again, the VA does not care when you develop PTSD symptoms, just whether those symptoms are due to your military service in some capacity.

Here’s a breakdown of the disability ratings you may receive:

  • 0% rating if you have diagnosed with PTSD, but it doesn’t interfere with your professional or personal life
  • 30% rating if you have mild symptoms that cause occasional or mild stress
  • 50% rating for more severe symptoms and if your PTSD causes pronounced issues in the workplace or your private life
  • 70% rating if serious symptoms like continuous panic attacks, suicidal ideation, etc accompany your delayed onset PTSD. This rating may also be applied if you have difficulty maintaining relationships or working
  • 100% rating if your delayed onset PTSD is severe and means you can’t function in the workplace or socially

Contact Berry Law Today

If you or a loved one are Veterans who experience delayed onset PTSD, you qualify for disability benefits. If you need help appealing a denial, increasing your rating, or appealing an effective date, knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys like Berry Law can help.

Our experienced legal specialists can help you understand the process from start to finish. More importantly, we’ll help you grasp just what benefits you qualify for and the level of compensation you may receive for your delayed onset PTSD. Contact us today to learn more.


Delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder among war Veterans in primary care clinics – PMC | NCBI

Aging Veterans and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms – PTSD |

PTSD Treatment | Veterans Affairs

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

Related Posts

How to Get 100% VA Disability for Depression
How to Get 100% VA Disability for Depression
PTSD in Vietnam Veterans
PTSD in Vietnam Veterans
Can a Veteran With PTSD Buy a Gun?
Can a Veteran With PTSD Buy a Gun?

Subscribe to our newsletter

The Service Connection

Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.

Skip to content