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VA Disability and Drug Use: Can I Lose VA Disability Benefits?

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VA Disability, Benefits, Disability Rates & Compensation

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability suffers from a physical or mental impairment that significantly affects at least one primary life function. The number of disabled American veterans in the US was 19.2 million in 2018, which makes up 8% of the entire nation.1

VA provides monthly disability pay to veterans who developed a disability during their military service. The veteran must be diagnosed with a disability before receiving benefits. A veteran can also receive compensation for an ”undiagnosed illness”.2

To qualify for service compensation, a veteran’s disability must be related to active duty military service. Disability can be either a physical impairment, like back pain, a disease like cancer or diabetes, or a mental health condition like PTSD or depression.These are any symptoms or conditions not formally diagnosed by the VA as a disability. Undiagnosed illnesses include excessive weight loss, exhaustion, skin problems, and menstrual disorders.2

Veterans who were injured in service but healed with no residual impairments or lasting disabilities are likely not to be awarded monthly benefits by the VA. Compensation is only available for conditions with current symptoms or residual effects.2

Veterans may be diagnosed with diseases or conditions that predate their service. These conditions, however, fall under specific rules. Their preexisting condition would have to have progressed too quickly due to military service. Sometimes it’s hard to prove that the military service worsened pre-existing conditions. Flat feet and back problems are commonly considered eligible in that context.2

Based on how severe the condition is, the VA assigns a disability rating. VA rates disabilities to compensate veterans for the average reduction in earning capacity that they experience as a result of their service-connected disability.2

The Department of Veterans Affairs rates 41% of those who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war zones after the September 11 terror attacks as disabled. This is compared to 25% of veterans from different periods, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual survey of veterans’ employment. In August 2018, 41 percent of veterans who served post-9/11, or 1.7 million, reported a disability related to the service, and nearly half of those were disabled to a degree of 60 % or more.3

Is Substance Abuse or Addiction Considered a VA Disability?

Drug addiction can lead to a wide range of physical and emotional problems if left untreated. VA experts say substance abuse is frequently associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.4

The injuries or illnesses contracted while serving in the military are considered service-connected disabilities. VA disability compensation for substance abuse must also meet other conditions. By the VA definition, alcohol abuse is the sustained or excessive consumption of alcohol over time, sufficient to cause permanent disability or death to the user.5  

VA defines the frequent use of any prescription or non-prescription drugs beyond medical purposes or for their intoxicating effect alone as drug abuse.5

VA Disability Eligibility and Requirements

Two factors make a veteran eligible for disability benefits and compensation. A veteran is hindered due to an illness or injury and served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training:5

  • The illness or injury was caused by military service (inservice disability claim).
  • A pre-service disease or injury was made worse due to the service (pre-service disability claim).
  • An active-duty illness or injury that didn’t start showing effect until after the service ended (postservice disability claim).

Eligible VA disabilities that may be claimed are chronic illnesses that appeared within one year after the service ended. This includes illnesses developed as a result of contact with hazardous substances or contaminants or those developed during capture as a prisoner of war (POW). Other conditions eligible for a VA disability claim include chronic (long-term) back pain, lung disease or a lung condition, significant hearing loss, scars, movement problems, ulcers, cancers, traumatic brain injury (TBI), (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.5

Veterans who received dishonorable or bad conduct discharge are not eligible for VA disability claims.5

What Are VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans with disabilities who have been injured or ill during active military service are entitled to VA disability compensation, which is a tax-free monetary benefit. Post-service compensation is also available for disabilities considered related or secondary to those arising over the course of military service and for disabilities that may arise after military service, for which military service was presumed to be responsible. VA Disability levels are also intended to cover considerable time lost from work due to illness or injury.6

Can You Lose VA Disability Benefits Because of Substance Abuse?

You may be unable to obtain VA disability claims if you suffer from substance use disorders. For example, you are ineligible for these benefits if you have a dishonorable discharge. You can receive a dishonorable discharge if you are convicted of a felony crime while enlisted or engaged in something called willful misconduct.7 It is when a person knows they are doing something wrong but disregards the consequences.8

Willful misconduct doesn’t include just drinking or taking drugs while enlisted. Intoxication, excessive use of substances, long-term use preceding addiction, taking a prescription drug in a way that is not intended, or injuries directly related to substance abuse are deemed willful misconduct. Injuries associated with substance abuse will not qualify you for VA disability benefits.8

What Are the Other Ways You Can Lose VA Disability Benefits?

VA can sometimes discontinue or lower disability benefits, such as in these cases:9

  • Severance of disability benefits due to fraud. VA can properly sever the service connection if there has been fraud or an error in the decision granting service connection.
  • Overpayment. It occurs when VA discovers that a veteran was compensated more than granted for a particular disability. Now a veteran is in debt to VA and there are methods to reimburse the money.
  • Severance pay. If a veteran were given severance pay when their service ended and still applies for VA disability benefits, they would have to reimburse the severance amount.
  • Breaking the law. VA will reduce a veteran’s disability benefits if they go to jail or completely stop them while they are running away from the law (warrant for the veteran).

What Are VA Disability Rates?

VA disability rates are provided for service-connected disabilities based on their severity. Their goal is to compensate veterans for the amount of money they can’t earn due to the impairment caused by their military service.10

Disabilities are rated from 0% to 100% in 10% increments. There is a table representing the amount compensated for each percentage. For example, veterans with a 10% disability receive $152.64, and a 20% VA disability amount is $301.74.10

What Should I Do If I Have Multiple Disability Ratings?

The rating is calculated using all VA disability ratings if you have more than one. Adding up the ratings is only part of the equation. The combined rating of your disabilities may differ from the sum of each disability.11

What Is the VA Disability Rate for Substance Abuse?

VA does not compensate directly for substance abuse issues related to military service. However, it can be proven that substance abuse during or after the service has caused a certain VA disability rate.11

What Is the VA Disability Rate for Other Veterans Issues?

Similar to physical impairment, VA disability rates have the same rating, ranging from 0% to 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100% for PTSD, mental health issues, and depression.11

Veterans with multiple mental health conditions (like PTSD and depression) will likely be assigned one combined rating since all mental health conditions are evaluated using the same standards. VA does not require them to file separate disability claims for each mental health condition, although they may do so if they wish.11

How to Submit a VA Disability Claim?

You can send a disability claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs by filling an online compensation claim. You can also send it via regular mail or bring a filled form in person. You can work with an accredited representative if you need help filing a claim for VA disability compensation.12

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two major disability programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). A person with limited income or resources can apply for SSI to receive minimum essential financial assistance. Individuals with disabilities can apply for SSDI benefits if they have a track record of relevant work history. They can also apply if their family member falls into the category.12

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance to avoid hunger. EBT cards and coupons make nutritious foods more accessible to low-income families. SNAP recipients can buy eligible food with their benefits in authorized retail food stores.12

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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