VA Rating for Alcoholism?

VA Rating for Alcoholism

Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, we’re increasing awareness about AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) among Veterans and when it’s considered a disability so you can claim VA benefits. 

It’s no secret that some severe health conditions are more common among Veterans than the general population. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that 6.2% of Veterans (over 1.3 million people) struggle with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Alcohol use is the most widespread in this segment of disorders.

65.4% of Veterans ages 18 to 25 and 57% of Veterans ages 26 and older reported using alcohol regularly. About 10% of Veterans are diagnosed with AUD every year. Male Veterans are diagnosed with alcoholism almost twice as often as female Veterans.

You cannot get a VA disability rating for alcoholism on its own, but the VA still recognizes that AUD may often be a secondary disability to a service-connected disorder. We often see Veterans who don’t know that they deserve compensation from the VA for any number of conditions. Unfortunately, SUD and, particularly alcoholism is the most common example of this.

In this Blog article, we’ll take a closer look at:

  • Why alcoholism has become such a pressing issue among Veterans
  • When can alcoholism can be considered a disability
  • Who can receive VA disability benefits once diagnosed with AUD and how they can do it

Alcoholism Among Veterans

Here are the primary reasons why there is such a strong link between the military past and alcohol abuse:

  • The Power of Habit
    Alcohol use is often normalized in military culture as the easiest way to relieve stress. Deployment and combat situations, as well as injuries and other known challenges of a military life, can become a heavy burden on your physical and mental health. And while you become separated from most regular healthy outlets, such as recreational activities, and connections with your loved ones, alcohol consumption may become a habitual coping mechanism that transfers to your civilian life simply because old habits are hard to break.
  • Transition Challenges
    Starting a new life is always hard. And when you are supposed to start a new chapter carrying the burden of physical and emotional trauma caused by military service, the process can become incredibly challenging. Veterans sometimes struggle with finding employment, adjusting to civilian routines, and dealing with feelings of isolation or alienation. Unfortunately in this case alcohol often seems to be the easiest and cheapest efficient coping mechanism.
  • Social and Mental Health Stigma
    Alcoholism among Veterans is complex issue. There is still a strong stigma surrounding mental health issues within the military community. Some Veterans are hesitant to seek professional help for mental health concerns, including alcoholism, due to fears of being perceived as weak or unfit. 

Debunking Myths About Alcoholism

Here are common myths about alcoholism among Veterans:

I will lose my VA benefits if they find out that I am an alcoholic.
This is not true. Once you admit the problem, you may not only receive help from the VA, but also increase your VA disability rate.

The VA doesn’t provide disability benefits for alcoholism.
Yes, there is no VA disability rate for alcoholism itself and it cannot be considered a service-connected condition. However, once you manage to provide evidence that your problem with alcohol was triggered by your primary disability, you may qualify for a secondary condition. 

The VA does not recognize service connection if alcoholism was not diagnosed while I was in the military.
Alcoholism can be triggered by a primary service-connected disability. The fact is, it can happen any moment, right after you were injured or had a traumatic experience, or several years after. The main point is to admit the problem, seek help, and get diagnosed by a qualified professional, and then you can receive help from various resources.

Admitting that I abuse alcohol means I am weak and spineless.
Admitting to alcohol abuse is a sign of strength, responsibility, and readiness to deal with the problem rather than hiding from it. Alcoholism is a medical condition no different from any other disease that could develop or be aggravated due to the hardships of military service or the challenges of transitioning to civilian life, or any traumatizing or difficult life event. 


All of this doesn’t mean that Veterans and their families have to struggle with alcohol abuse on their own, viewing it as an unavoidable reality. Admitting the problem and getting qualified help is the first step towards overcoming the issue, and in many cases, receiving VA disability benefits for AUD.

When Alcoholism is Considered a Disability

While there’s no specific VA rate for alcoholism, the VA recognizes it as a disability when it is possible to establish the link between a service-connected condition and other disabilities that could develop from your time in the military.

Moreover, if you were diagnosed with AUD before you started your service and can prove that the condition was aggravated by a service-connected disability or the conditions of your military service, you may also qualify for a VA disability rate.

Here are the common service-connected disabilities that may contribute to or exacerbate AUD:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    PTSD is a significant risk factor for developing AUD among Veterans. Traumatic experiences during military service can lead to PTSD, and individuals with PTSD may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms such as hyperarousal, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
    Veterans who have experienced a traumatic brain injury during their service may be at higher risk for developing AUD. TBI can affect impulse control, decision-making, and emotional regulation, increasing the likelihood of problematic alcohol use.
  • Chronic Pain and Physical Injuries
    Veterans with service-connected disabilities related to chronic pain or physical injuries may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to alleviate discomfort. However, alcohol use can exacerbate pain and interfere with the effectiveness of pain management strategies.
  • Depression and Anxiety Disorders
    If you suffer from depression or anxiety disorders as a result of your military service, you may be more prone to developing AUD. Alcohol use can temporarily alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety but can ultimately worsen these conditions over time.
  • Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
    Military sexual trauma is another notorious factor that can lead to psychological distress, symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. AUD may develop as a way to cope with the emotional pain and trauma associated with MST.
  • Adjustment Disorder
    Some Veterans become particularly vulnerable to a condition called adjustment disorder. It often strikes after some significant change or loss and comes with severe psychological symptoms like anxiety, and depression, so severe that they make it hard to function in everyday life. Alcohol use can be a maladaptive coping mechanism for dealing with the stressors and challenges of transitioning out of the military.

If you suffer from any of these service-connected disabilities, you may establish a link between them and excessive alcohol use on a secondary basis as long as, according to the Allen v. Principi precedent, the alcohol or drug abuse disability is “not due to willful misconduct.”

According to Federal Circuit 38 U.S.C. 1110, a Veteran cannot receive compensation only in two cases:

  • Alcohol abuse occurred during service from voluntary and willful excessive drinking 
  • You are trying to claim benefits for disabilities that resulted from your willful excessive drinking

Even in case you don’t qualify for benefits for any of the service-connected disabilities we have mentioned above, and therefore, cannot claim your AUD as a secondary condition, you can still be entitled to VA benefits if you prove that your alcoholism is the reason you cannot find a job and gain sustainable income.

Claiming Alcoholism as a Secondary Disability

Claiming AUD as a secondary disability might be one of the hardest cases. However, it is not impossible if you can establish a strong link between excessive drinking and the conditions of your military service or service-connected disabilities.

The most important evidence you can provide in this case is the medical records that can establish such a link. They should demonstrate:

  • A history of alcohol abuse starting in the service or shortly after discharge but not due to your willful misconduct
  • A diagnosis for a psychological condition that could be causing the alcoholism that began exhibiting symptoms in service or shortly after discharge.

Resources for Veterans with AUD

While the VA benefits will provide you with financial support, some other tools and resources can help you receive qualified help and overcome AUD.

24/7 Veterans Crisis Line 

A 24/7 hotline for Veterans and their families where they can receive qualified, and what is important, anonymous. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA health care or qualify for benefits to connect.

  • DIAL 988, Press 1
  • Text 838255
  • Online chat is also available on the website

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

Another free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service. Available in English and Spanish.

National Call Center for Homeless Veterans

Here, you can get a consultation from a trained VA counselor about the homeless and health care programs available in your area.

VA Community Resource and Referral Centers

Even if you don’t qualify for the VA health care program, here you can find local resources and treatment centers for AUD. 

Conclusion

Alcohol abuse is a sensitive topic. But it is also a harsh reality for many Veterans and their loved ones. If your condition developed due to the hardships of your military service or as a result of numerous disabilities often associated with the military, you can still be entitled to VA disability benefits aimed at helping you overcome the condition and help you build a healthy civilian life.

VCU can help. We’ve developed a vast network of legal and medical professionals who can study your case from every angle, provide nexus statements, and help you make informed decisions regarding your case and the evidence that will help strengthen it.

Contact VCU today and book your FREE 30-minute call with one of our Veteran Specialists.

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