Many veterans struggle with a substance abuse disorder. Although the VA does not rate alcoholism or drug addiction as a service-connected disability, it can be placed as a secondary condition that worsens symptoms of a primary service-connected disability like PTSD.
However, a veteran must prove that the service-connected disability caused the veteran’s substance use problem to receive a secondary condition rating.
The most crucial evidence to support a veteran’s claim for disability benefits for alcoholism is the medical records that detail the severity of the condition. These records should include the veteran’s medical history, beginning in service or shortly after discharge. A diagnosis of a mental health disorder, which could have contributed to alcoholism as a coping mechanism, should also be included in these records.
These medical records must be comprehensive and contain all relevant information. This includes private physician medical records, VA hospital records, diagnostic tests, and a complete family history.
While it is not possible to get a service-connection rating for a substance use disorder alone, many veterans who have been diagnosed with a mental health issue that caused them to drink excessively will be able to receive compensation on a secondary basis. For example, a veteran service connected to PTSD who uses alcohol to self-medicate can often get a bonus for the cirrhosis of the liver that results from the long-term abuse of alcohol.
The VA is committed to helping veterans who have service-connected disabilities and turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with those conditions. Those veterans often struggle with substance abuse issues that lead to health, social, and financial problems.
Understanding the VA rating for alcoholism involves a detailed evaluation of how this condition impacts a veteran’s overall health and functionality, considering its effects on daily life and potential correlation with service-related experiences.
The first step in getting disability compensation for these addictions is to show that they are caused by, or are a symptom of, a service-connected mental illness, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. Then, it is necessary to support that claim with collateral evidence, such as witness statements from friends and family members or medical and treatment records.
It is also essential to find a healthcare provider who understands the link between mental health and substance abuse, as it is not uncommon for one condition to cause or worsen the other. It’s also helpful to have service personnel records on hand in case they contain details about alcohol and drug use. These can provide vital evidence for a claim.
Often, the best evidence supporting a claim for VA disability is a well-written lay statement. These can come from various sources, including family, friends, and former service members. It is essential that the reports are well-written and provide new information or corroborate existing evidence. The words should also be from individuals with personal knowledge of the veteran and their condition.
Typically, lay or buddy statements are completed by those who knew the veteran before, during, and after their military service and can attest to the changes they have seen in the veteran as a result of their alcoholism or drug addiction. This type of evidence helps to illustrate the extent of the condition and its impacts on a veteran’s life and daily functioning.
It is also important to remember that veterans cannot receive a rating for their alcoholism or drug addiction if the VA determines that it is due to willful misconduct.
Substance abuse and addiction is not a service-connected disability on its own. However, it can be a symptom of a service-connected underlying condition. For example, a veteran who has PTSD may drink heavily to try and manage their symptoms. Over time, heavy drinking could lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which can be considered a secondary service connection.
For a claim to be successful, veterans must prove that the underlying service-connected condition worsens or exacerbates their symptoms due to alcoholism. This is usually done through evidence such as collateral statements from family members and friends or medical evidence from therapists and doctors.
In addition, a favorable C&P exam is critical, as the results of this medical examination will directly impact a veteran’s rating and compensation. The length of a C&P exam can vary, depending on the type of disability being reviewed. This is why veterans need to work with an experienced accredited representative who can ensure the examiner is well-versed in the style of disability being evaluated.