Man Sitting in the Dark Holding a Bottle

An estimated 6.2% of military veterans have experienced a substance use disorder to some degree and it can be a complex issue for many veterans and their families. Many veterans want to know – is substance abuse a VA disability? While substance abuse itself may not be service-connected, the VA recognizes the connection between military service and the development of substance use disorders (SUDs) – which can be another name for addiction.

This quick overview created by Veterans Law Attorneys will explore how substance use disorders and addiction can be considered service-connected as a secondary condition, potentially opening the door to VA disability benefits. If determining eligibility or navigating the VA claims process seems confusing, Veterans Law Attorneys is here to help. The Veterans Law Attorneys Team understands the unique challenges veterans face and can offer invaluable legal expertise to ensure you receive the disability compensation you deserve.

Are Substance Use Disorders Covered by VA Disability?

Are you familiar with the term substance use disorder? A substance use disorder (SUD) – also known as addiction in some cases – is a complex condition defined by an uncontrolled use of substances despite harmful consequences, and can include addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and other legal or illegal drugs. Addiction is the most severe classification of substance use disorder. Repeated use of these substances can impair day-to-day life and can result in physiological changes to the brain and brain function.

Veteran Holding a Full Shotglass

Veterans disability benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cover a wide range of service-connected physical injuries, illnesses, and medical conditions in addition to many mental health conditions like PTSD. Substance use disorders can be included in this category when a veteran is able to prove it is service connected. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes substance use disorders of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs as an eligible disability for veterans that is in many cases directly related to other medical conditions that qualify for VA disability benefits like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. With substance use disorders, addiction can lead to additional physical health problems that can be addressed with treatment.

Symptoms and Treatments of Veteran Substance Use Disorder

Veterans who fight substance use disorder in day-to-day life will face a variety of symptoms that include physiological and behavioral symptoms. Treatment options may vary based on the substance and the severity of symptoms.

Symptoms of SUDs

  • Increased and regular daily use of substances. 
  • Inability to stop using that substance.
  • Spending money on substances you cannot afford.
  • Changes to eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Loss of interest in personal relationships.
  • Neglect of self care and hygiene.
  • Sudden mood swings – anger and irritability.
  • Problems functioning at work or school.
  • Legal or money issues.
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Treatment of SUDs

  • Medical Detox – Veterans with substance use disorders can begin their recovery journey with medical detox. A medically-assisted treatment program that helps manage withdrawal symptoms in a safe setting, allowing the body to cleanse itself of substances.
  • Inpatient Treatment – Inpatient treatment offers veterans with SUDs a structured and supportive environment to focus on recovery through therapy, medication, and group support at residential treatment centers.
  • Outpatient Treatment – Outpatient treatment provides veterans with SUDs the flexibility to continue day-to-day routines while receiving therapy, medication, and support groups at outpatient treatment facilities and VA medical centers.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps veterans with SUDs identify and change unhealthy thought patterns that contribute to their addiction with the aid of treatments like psychotherapy.

READ MORE: Top 10 Easiest Injuries to Claim for VA Disability in 2024

While substance abuse itself isn’t a direct path to VA disability, this guide has explored how  substance use disorders can be considered service-connected and potentially lead to disability compensation. If you have questions like – is substance abuse a VA disability – or you are unsure about your eligibility or feel overwhelmed by the VA claims process, Veterans Law Attorneys can be your legal advocate. Contact Veterans Law Attorneys today and take the first step towards securing the benefits you’ve earned!

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