VA Disability and Drug Use: Is Substance Misuse a VA Disability?

4 min read · 6 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits refer to the compensation that Veterans receive (in any form) if they become sick or injured while on military duty. These benefits are also provided to Vets who had a condition that worsened due to their service in the military. Compensation can include VA health insurance benefits or direct monthly compensation.


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Disability benefits may cover physical conditions as well as mental health conditions.1 Those benefits may also apply to substance use disorder (SUD), which is sometimes simply called “addiction.” SUD is a disease that leads to problems with substances such as drugs and alcohol. If SUD is left untreated, it can negatively affect other aspects of life, which is why the VA sometimes considers it to be a service-connected disability.2

However, rehab for Veterans can help them recover from substance misuse issues and other co-occurring mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This page will cover VA disability benefits, drug use, and explain how VA medical centers offer multiple types of therapy and medications that are effective for treating SUD.3

Learn more about navigating Veteran and VA benefits for rehab.

VA Disability Eligibility and Requirements

A Veteran may be considered eligible for drug addiction disability benefits or alcohol disability benefits if they have a condition that affects their mental or physical health. They must also meet both of the following requirements:

  • They have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
  • They have been given a disability rating for their service-connected condition.

At least one of the following must also be true:

  • They are able to connect their illness or injury to their time serving in the military.
  • They had an illness or injury before serving in the military that was made worse due to active duty.
  • They have a disability that was found to be related to their time in service but didn’t appear until service was ceased.

Qualified dependents of Veterans may also be eligible for disability benefits.7

Are you looking for an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center that is designed for Veterans? Contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) today at There, an admissions navigator can help you create a treatment plan and verify your insurance coverage over the phone.

Can You Lose VA Disability Benefits from Substance Misuse?

A Veteran can lose disability benefits if they’re found to be involved in willful misconduct, meaning they are intentionally engaging in prohibited conduct, without caring about the consequences.8

The VA recognizes that many Veterans are dealing with service-connected mental health issues and that drugs and alcohol are often used to help cope with underlying issues. For that reason, and if the disability wasn’t caused by substance misuse, they shouldn’t lose their disability benefits.

VA Disability Ratings

The VA takes special care in determining the benefit amount a Veteran receives. After eligibility for benefits is confirmed, the process involves assigning a disability rating to each Vet applicant.

The disability rating varies from one person to another, depending on how severe the service-connected condition is. Each rating is expressed as a percentage representing the extent to which the condition decreases the person’s health and overall ability to function. A fixed compensation amount, if any, is connected to each percentage rating. The rating also determines any other VA benefits, such as healthcare, that a Vet may be eligible for.10

Specifically, the VA bases disability ratings on:

  • Evidence such as doctors’ notes and test results.
  • The results of the Vet’s compensation and pension (C&P) exam, if the exam is deemed necessary.
  • Any other information from other sources, such as federal agencies.10

What if I Have Multiple Disability Ratings?

Some Veterans have more than one disability rating. In these cases, the VA uses a method called the “whole person theory,” which accounts for the fact that a person cannot be more than 100% disabled or able-bodied. The method ensures that the sum of individual disability ratings will never be more than 100%. Thus the final disability rating determined by the “whole person theory” method will be different from the sum of individual disability ratings combined.10

VA Disability Ratings for Substance Misuse Issues

While substance use disorders are covered by the VA, they’re not considered to be directly service-connected. However, they can be considered secondarily service-connected if the substance use disorder arose because of the service-connected condition.Veterans guide to choosing rehab

If, for example, the Vet has excessive opioid use due to a back injury that occurred during active service, they could file a secondary claim to get additional disability benefits on top of what they’re already receiving for the related back injury.11

There is no way to predict what a Veteran will receive in disability benefits until the VA assesses their needs. Just to give a rough idea: Someone with a disability rating of 10% for SUD in 2021 could expect around $144.14 per month. A disability rating of 20% would yield $284.93 per month.12

Did you know that AAC offers a Veteran-specific program for those who have served in our armed forces and who are suffering from drug or alcohol addiction? Visit our Veteran program page to learn more.

VA Disability Ratings for Other Veteran Issues

It’s important to remember that different conditions are granted different disability ratings. Some common conditions are mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

PTSD can happen to anyone after they experience combat or another traumatic event. While some reactions to stress are temporary, others don’t go away. Reactions that disrupt someone’s life could be PTSD. To establish a service connection for PTSD, the Vet must provide evidence of an in-service stressor. They must also meet the following requirements:13

  • They can show that the stressor happened during their time in service.
  • They explain how symptoms are interfering with their ability to function.
  • They receive a PTSD diagnosis from a doctor.

In contrast to PTSD, there is no need to establish a stressor for a Vet to be evaluated for service-connected anxiety and depression.14

As for determining the exact amount of disability payments or other benefits, keep in mind that one person’s disability rating will differ from another’s; the degree of disability depends on their unique experiences.

Will Substance Misuse Affect Other Disability or Benefit Claims?

Typically, substance misuse will not affect other disability or benefit claims. This is in contrast to Social Security disability claims. The VA is more willing to understand individual cases that Veterans may be struggling with; mental health and substance misuse are common. Although a claim may be denied due to willful misconduct, it shouldn’t be denied due to other health issues, including substance misuse, as long as the person can provide the information the VA needs to assert that the condition is service-connected.15

VA Disability Statistics

The VA acknowledges studies that prove the connection between PTSD and substance use among Veterans. The following statistics illustrate the prevalence of PTSD and SUDs among Veterans:16

  • More than 2 of 10 Vets, who have PTSD, also have a SUD.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 Vets, who seek treatment for SUD, also have PTSD.
  • Ten percent of returning Vets, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.
  • A war Veteran with PTSD is more likely to binge drink than other Vets.16

While statistics are meant to show that you’re not alone, keep in mind that your situation is unique. If you’re a Veteran dealing with substance misuse, whether it’s in connection to PTSD or any other condition, it’s important to know that treatment works. You’re not alone. The VA is where your journey begins.

Ways to Get in Contact With Us

If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment.

There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about treatment.

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