Research has demonstrated that the impact of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the mental health of United States (U.S.) veterans was less negative than originally anticipated. However, U.S. veterans are susceptible to exacerbation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology in late life. The aims of this study were to examine the extent to which older U.S. veterans experienced an exacerbation of PTSD symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to identify pre- and peri-pandemic factors that conferred risk for symptom exacerbation. Participants were U.S. military veterans aged 60 and older who completed three waves of the 2019–2022 National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study (NHRVS) (n=1858). PTSD symptoms were measured at all waves using the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5, and a latent growth mixture model was conducted to compute latent slopes of change of PTSD symptoms over the 3-year period. 159 (8.3%) participants experienced a worsening of PTSD symptomology over the pandemic period. Factors related to PTSD exacerbation were incident trauma exposure between Waves 1 and 2, more medical conditions with onset prior to the pandemic, and peri-pandemic social restriction stress. Number of incident traumas moderated the relationship between both number of pre-pandemic medical conditions and pre-pandemic social connectedness, and exacerbated PTSD symptoms. These results suggest that the pandemic did not confer additional risk for PTSD exacerbation than would be expected over a 3-year period for older veterans. Those who experience incident trauma exposure should be monitored for symptom exacerbation.
- Military service
- Mental health