Is Substance Abuse or Addiction Considered a VA Disability?

American Addiction Center

The VA recognizes substance use disorders as a disability because the use of alcohol, tobacco, street drugs, and prescription drugs is so prevalent among veterans. Without treatment, substance use disorders can cause other health problems—both physical and emotional. The VA acknowledges that substance abuse disorder is often related to other conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Treatments are available to address the problems related to substance abuse disorder.6

If an injury or illness was either incurred or made worse during active service in the military, it is considered to be a service-connected disability. Other conditions must also apply if you are to be considered eligible for disability compensation for substance abuse. For instance, the vet must not have been discharged or separated under dishonorable conditions.4 The VA determines whether a vet is eligible for disability benefits, however, even if the person has been honorably discharged.5

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

Can You Lose VA Disability Benefits from Substance Abuse?

A veteran can lose disability benefits is 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 abuse, they shouldn’t lose their disability benefits.

Other Ways You Can Lose VA Disability Benefits

 veteran can lose VA disability benefits if the VA severs a service-related connection to the disability. The VA can sever a service-related connection in either of the following situations:9

  • There is a finding of fraud.
  • The VA made an error in the initial decision to grant a service connection to the disability.

Other than severing disability benefits, the VA can also decrease the amount of disability compensation the person receives. This could be due to either of the following circumstances:

  • They receive military retirement pay, disability severance pay, or separation pay.
  • They are incarcerated in a federal, state, or local facility for more than 60 days because they’re convicted of a felony.

Although the VA makes the final decision about ceasing benefits, it is important for veterans to realize that they do have rights. First, they must receive advance notice that the VA is proposing to sever a service connection. Second, they must be given a chance to argue against the proposal to sever the service connection.

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