Delayed-onset posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been under medico-legal debate for years. Previous studies examining the prevalence and clinical characteristics of delayed-onset PTSD have yielded inconclusive findings. This study prospectively examines the prevalence and clinical picture of late-onset PTSD among Israeli war veterans. It also evaluates whether or not late-onset PTSD erupts after a completely non-symptomatic period. 675 Israeli veterans from the 1982 Lebanon War, with and without antecedent combat stress reaction (CSR), have been assessed 1, 2 and 20 years post-war. They were divided into 4 groups, according to the duration of delay in PTSD onset. Participants completed self-report questionnaires tapping psychopathology, combat exposure and socio-demographics. 16.5% of the veterans suffered from late-onset PTSD. A longer delay in PTSD onset was associated with less severe psychopathology. Also, CSR was associated with a shorter delay in PTSD onset. Finally, the vast majority of veterans already suffered from PTSD symptoms prior to late PTSD onset. Our results offer further validation for the existence of delayed-onset PTSD. Delayed-onset PTSD appears to be a unique sub-type of PTSD, with an attenuated clinical picture. In addition, delayed-onset PTSD may be the result of an incubation process, wherein symptoms already exist prior to PTSD onset.
- Military psychiatry