Veterans abuse alcohol more than any other substance, and more than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with addiction. But is alcoholism a VA disability?
Whether a veteran uses alcohol as a coping mechanism or as a way to adjust to regular life after returning from deployment, alcoholism is a dangerous illness if ignored or untreated.
The VA does not award service connection directly for alcoholism, despite evidence that substance abuse is connected to mental illness. To receive a service connection for alcoholism, it must be related to another disability. We will discuss how that works in this article.
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In this article about alcoholism as a VA disability
Service members drink more than people in other jobs
A 2017 Centers for Disease Control study found the U.S. military is America’s heaviest drinking profession. According to the National Health Interview Study, people in the armed forces drank on average 130 days a year — more than people in any other industry. The average in the study was 91 days.
The study also revealed that service members binge drink more than people in other jobs — at least four to five drinks in one sitting an average of 41 days per year.
Excessive drinking only continues when active-duty service members become veterans. A 2017 Institute of Medicine study found that in one month, veterans were more likely to use alcohol and to partake in heavy alcohol use than the general population.
Addiction and alcoholism
Addictions are formally called substance use disorders. People with addictions cannot control their use of drugs, alcohol, or other substances. When a person can’t control their alcohol use, it is called alcoholism.
Some common signs of addiction are:
- Change in relationships because of drug or alcohol habits
- Withdrawal symptoms or feeling sick when drug or alcohol use stops
- Inability to stop drinking or using drugs
- Feeling anxious or depressed about your substance use
- Increased tolerance for alcohol or drugs
If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol or drugs, the VA offers a free self-screening tool.
Mental health and addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that half of all people with a mental illness will eventually develop an addiction. One possible reason is that people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms of a mental illness, including PTSD.
A person with PTSD is two to four times more likely to be an addict than a person without PTSD, according to the National Institutes of Health.
How the VA Rates Alcoholism
VA disability law does not directly service connect for alcoholism, but it will service connect an alcohol-related condition if it is secondary to a service-connected condition.
A veteran who becomes an alcoholic as a result of a primary service-connected condition and then develops an alcohol-related secondary service-connected condition may be eligible for VA benefits for the secondary condition.
Here is an example: A veteran suffers from PTSD and starts to heavily drink to cope with her symptoms. She develops liver disease years later. The veteran could be eligible for compensation for liver disease on a secondary basis. In this case, the veteran’s alcohol abuse is a bridge between her service-connected PTSD and liver disease.
If alcoholism is a result of willful misconduct (an intentional act that disregards a known risk), the veteran will not be eligible for service connection. If you receive a willful misconduct finding, you may not be eligible for VA disability benefits.
Conditions related to alcoholism
Anxiety and depression
Alcohol is commonly thought to be a stress reliever, but it actually can heighten a person’s anxiety. A veteran may get a secondary service connection for alcoholism’s effects if they are caused by their service-connected anxiety.
Heavy drinking is also associated with feelings of depression. Research has found when anxiety and depression occur together, the symptoms of both are more severe than each disorder by itself.
The VA rates anxiety and depression under the general rating formula for mental disorders. Most, but not all, mental health disorders are rated at 30%, 50%, and 70%.
PTSD and alcoholism
It is common for veterans to use alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms. About eight out of ten Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment also have problems with alcohol abuse. The relationship between alcohol abuse and PTSD can start with either condition, meaning people with PTSD have problems with alcohol before and after PTSD develops.
Alcohol can worsen PTSD symptoms. You may believe alcohol can provide a long-term solution for PTSD symptoms, but using alcohol makes it harder to cope with trauma and stress. It can also disrupt restful sleep, which is also a symptom of PTSD.
VA disability law rates PTSD under the general rating formula for mental disorders, mentioned in the previous section of this article.
Physical health conditions
The CDC divides the dangers of alcohol abuse into short-term and long-term risks. The short-term risks include injuring yourself or others, alcohol poisoning, and risky sexual behaviors.
We have already talked about mental health problems as a long-term risk. Other conditions that could be a secondary service connection for veterans are:
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
How Woods and Woods can help you
If you are a veteran who struggles with alcohol abuse related to PTSD, depression, or anxiety, call or contact us today.
We will look at your case to see if we can help you get the compensation from the VA you deserve. We’ll file your initial claim at no cost to you, and you won’t pay anything unless we win your appeal.
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The VA does not award service connections directly for alcoholism. It will service-connect an alcohol-related condition if it is secondary to a service-connected condition.
It is common for veterans to use alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms.
Alcohol can worsen PTSD symptoms and can disrupt restful sleep.