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VA Disability for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

VA Disability for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Many Veterans experience traumatic events or intense injuries because of their time in the military. Unfortunately, some Veterans use alcoholism or drug addiction as self-medication, which can lead to long-term negative side effects and chronic conditions.

In some cases, the VA offers disability benefits for alcoholism and drug addiction, but it can be difficult to know whether you qualify based on your circumstances. Read on for more information about VA disability alcoholism and drug addiction benefits.

How Does the VA Quantify Alcohol Use Disorder or Drug Abuse?

The VA has very strict definitions for what constitutes an alcohol use disorder or drug abuse disorder. Merely taking a drug or having a drink does not mean you qualify for benefits for alcohol use disorder or drug abuse.

Instead, your alcohol or drug use must directly and negatively interfere with your life or have physical consequences. Furthermore, your alcohol or drug use must continue for several weeks or months.

If you’re a Veteran and occasionally have an alcoholic beverage, you don’t have alcohol use disorder. However, if you suffer from a traumatic condition, like service-connected PTSD, and regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol to avoid nightmares, memories of stressors, or negative symptoms of PTSD, you may have an alcohol use disorder.

Regular alcohol or drug abuse can affect active duty or retired service members. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, this may lead to ancillary mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and more.

Can You Receive Benefits for Alcoholism or Drug Addiction?

Veterans cannot receive disability benefits from the VA directly from alcoholism or drug use. However, Veterans may receive disability benefits if their alcohol use or drug abuse stems from a service-connected condition for which they already receive benefits.

As in the above example, imagine that a Veteran developed PTSD because they witnessed a traumatic event during their military service. They are honorably discharged but still feel the negative symptoms of PTSD, such as nightmares, insomnia, and hypervigilance. To self-medicate and overcome these symptoms, they start drinking heavily.

Over time, the Veteran develops the negative symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, such as further difficulty sleeping or liver problems. At this stage, the Veteran may receive additional benefits for alcoholism because they only developed the alcohol use disorder because of a service-connected disability.

The same is true for drug use and abuse. You can’t receive disability benefits for alcohol or drug use, even if you start doing those things in the military. However, if you begin using drugs or alcohol inappropriately because of a disability or injury sustained from your military service, you may qualify for benefits.

When Do You Qualify for Alcoholism or Drug Addiction Benefits?

Since you can’t be service-connected for alcoholism or drug use, you can only be service-connected on a secondary basis for either of those conditions. Such secondary service connections are contingent on you already having a primary service-connected disability or injury for which you receive benefits.

Suppose a Veteran develops cirrhosis of the liver because of prolonged alcohol use. They only began using alcohol regularly because they suffered a severe injury, like a disability, while in the military. 

The Veteran may receive benefits to help them pay for the side effects of cirrhosis since they only developed the cirrhosis due to alcoholism, and the alcoholism only developed because of their initial disability.

All Veterans can receive disability ratings for alcohol-related and drug-related conditions, ranging from injuries to debilitating conditions to diseases, so long as the alcoholism or drug abuse was not a product of “willful misconduct.”

What Is “Willful Misconduct” According to the VA?

Willful misconduct means that a Veteran consciously did something wrong, which caused an injury or disabling condition. In essence, it means the Veteran knew that drinking alcohol was bad for them but consciously decided to drink to excess anyway without having a reasonable cause to do so.

The VA may deny you benefits for alcohol use disorder or drug abuse if it can prove willful misconduct on your part. However, since this is difficult, connecting your alcoholism or drug addiction to a service-connected disability is usually enough to acquire disability compensation.

Anyone can experience alcohol addiction and binge drinking, especially unintentionally. If left unchecked, this medical condition can lead to mental illness or other health problems.

Ratings for Alcohol Use Disorder or Drug Abuse Disorder

The VA doesn’t assign explicit ratings or diagnostic codes for alcohol use disorder or drug abuse disorder. The VA does not award benefits or compensation for these conditions as primary, service-connected disabilities.

However, alcohol use or drug abuse disorders and their side effects, such as cirrhosis, insomnia, and other conditions, can all add to a Veteran’s total VA disability rating. 

For example, suppose a Veteran has a 50% rating from the VA for PTSD. They develop alcoholism due to their condition. In that case, that rating might go up to 70% or higher depending on the symptoms their alcohol use disorder presents.

The more severe the disorder, the more symptoms it will cause, and your rating will be higher. In this sense, the VA technically does not award any benefits for alcoholism or drug addiction – it instead awards benefits for the symptoms or conditions that those addictions cause, such as cirrhosis.

What Benefits and Services Are Available for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction?

In addition to disability benefits in the form of monthly payments, the VA offers a variety of treatment options and services for alcoholism and drug addiction treatment. These include:

  • Ongoing medication from a VA-approved medical healthcare provider. Medication usually involves medically managed detoxification to help Veterans stop drinking or using prescription drugs safely.
  • Therapy from a VA-approved therapist. This can include drug substitution therapies or various medicines to reduce cravings. It can also include treatments like nicotine replacement therapy to help deal with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Treatment of co-occurring mental health issues and physical conditions like PTSD, cirrhosis, and others.

Depending on a Veteran’s needs, the VA may provide counseling and therapy options ranging from self-help groups to residential care to intensive outpatient treatment to marriage and family counseling. 

The VA is committed to assisting Veterans who develop alcoholism or drug abuse disorder due to service-connected disabilities – that commitment goes beyond monetary assistance.

Submitting a VA Disability Claim for Benefits for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

While it’s good to know that the VA may provide benefits and services for alcoholism and drug addiction, submitting a claim for those benefits can be tricky, like the system. Remember, you can’t directly submit a claim for benefits for alcoholism or drug addiction. Instead, you have to show how a service-connected condition or disability caused the alcohol use disorder or drug abuse disorder.

The best way to ensure you get additional benefits or services is to contact knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys. The right attorneys can assist by:

  • Helping you gather sufficient evidence to prove your claim. Evidence can include lay statements, which are statements from yourself, friends, family members, and coworkers, that explain how your alcoholism or drug use only began after you were injured or disabled.
  • Gathering medical evidence from healthcare providers, like therapists, doctors, and others. Certain medical evidence can prove that you are physiologically addicted to a substance, like a serious drug, rather than just psychologically addicted. This can help the VA understand that it needs to provide you with access to treatment services.
  • Walking you through the benefits application process from start to finish. In this way, your attorneys can ensure that you don’t have to file the same paperwork twice and that you get the help you need as quickly as possible rather than that help is delayed.

Contact Berry Law Today

The VA may provide disability benefits for alcoholism or drug addiction if either of those conditions is caused due to a service-connected injury or illness. Even with this information, it can be tough to know whether you specifically qualify for disability benefits or how to claim them to stabilize your finances.

Berry Law can help. Our attorneys have a lot of experience filing successful Veterans disability benefits claims and appealing denied claims for individuals like you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Sources:

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institutes of Health

Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA 

Housing Improvement Program | Benefits.gov

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.

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