Substance Abuse and Service Connection: Is It Possible?

Substance Abuse and Service Connection: Is It Possible?

April 04, 2021

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After serving in the military, many veterans return to civilian life with new and serious health issues they cannot always see. Mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, anxiety and physical ailments that cause chronic pain or sleep disruptions are often challenging to handle. This can lead some sufferers to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to manage the symptoms themselves. 

An estimated 11 to 25 percent of post 9/11 veterans struggle with substance abuse. Some drink alcohol excessively, some take illicit drugs like heroin, and others misuse prescription medications. All could likely benefit from professional help in treating their substance abuse disorders and any other underlying conditions.

Does the VA offer disability ratings for substance abuse disorders? The answer is both no and yes. Substance abuse disorder is not a compensable condition on its own, according to the VA. However, a veteran who uses alcohol or drugs to cope with a service-connected condition and then subsequently experiences adverse effects on their health due to substance abuse can be granted a secondary service connection. 

As an example, a veteran has PTSD and drinks heavily to cope with the symptoms. They then experience liver disease as a result of long-term drinking. Therefore, they could get a secondary service connection and, therefore, disability compensation and benefits for the liver disease as it is service-connected PTSD. 

Sometimes, the VA is inconsistent with applying this rule to cases, resulting in denied claims and missed benefits. Evidence to support that a substance abuse problem was caused or exacerbated by a service-connected condition is critical in a successful claim for this. Some examples of evidence that can work are lay statements from loved ones or fellow service members who can describe how the veteran’s behavior and substance abuse changed after the initial injury or condition occurred. Statements from independent medical professionals and even the veteran themselves are good too. 

If you are suffering from or have been denied by the VA for a substance abuse disorder caused or worsened by a service-connected disability, contact Legal Help for Veterans. We exclusively help veterans get the disability benefits they deserve. 

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