Substance Abuse Disorder & VA Disability

Substance Abuse Disorder and VA Disability

What is Substance Abuse Disorder?

To understand substance abuse disorder, it is important to understand how the VA defines drug and alcohol abuse. According to the VA, alcohol abuse is “the use of alcoholic beverages over time, or such excessive use at any one time, sufficient to cause disability or death of the user”. Further, the VA’s definition of drug abuse is: The use of illegal drugs (including prescription drugs that are illegally or illicitly obtained), the intentional use of prescription or non-prescription drugs for a purpose other than the medically intended use, or the use of substances other than alcohol to enjoy their effects.

How Prevalent is Substance Use Disorder in Veterans?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 7.1% of all U.S. veterans met the criteria for substance use disorder between 2004 and 2006.

Veterans often experience psychological stress or physical ailments as a result of their time spent in service. Substance use disorder can arise due to many factors. Prolonged treatment of physical pain with prescription narcotics can result in dependence of said substance. Many veterans also may try to cope with symptoms of psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries by using substances such as narcotics.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that around 18.5% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have or have had PTSD or depression. SAMHSA estimates that only about 50% of returning service members in need of mental health treatment actually seek it. Lack of treatment may lead to self-medicating with substances.

Can Substance Abuse Disorder be Service-Connected ?

Veterans cannot be directly service-connected for substance use disorder, however they can be service connected on a secondary basis for disabilities that arise from drug use due to a service-connected condition.

An example is if a veteran is service-connected orthopedic injury that causes great pain on a daily basis. The veteran is prescribed opiates for the pain and then develops renal disease as a result of the prolonged medication. The veteran may be able to receive disability compensation for the renal disease as secondary to the initial injury.

It is important to note that veterans can only receive disability ratings for substance abuse-related conditions as long as the substance abuse was not a product of the veteran’s own “willful misconduct.” The VA defines willful misconduct as “an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action.” The VA must prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that the cause of the veteran’s condition is in line with the definition provided above.

VA Services Available for Alcoholism Treatment

The VA offers many different services to veterans struggling with substance abuse. This includes treatment options such as medication, therapy, and treatment of conditions such as PTSD.

Medication options for these veterans include:

  • Medically managed detoxification to stop substance use safely, and services to stabilize
  • Drug substitution therapies and medicines to lessen cravings
  • Nicotine replacement therapy or medications

Counseling or therapy options include:

  • Short-term outpatient counseling
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Self-help groups
  • Residential care
  • Continuing care and relapse prevention
  • Program for veterans with specific needs (i.e. homeless veterans)

Veterans Help Group have been supporting veterans in getting the benefits they deserve since 1995. If you or a loved one served, and suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse, we are here to help. Call Veterans Help Group at 855-855-8992 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.


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