Disability Benefits for American Veterans: Ratings & Eligibility

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are entitled to protection and benefits that guarantee them a dignified and fulfilling life. As defined by the act, a disabled person is someone suffering from a physical or mental health condition that impairs their functioning in at least one significant aspect of daily life.1

Disabled veterans are one group of people covered under ADA. They are people whose disability developed as a result of their military service. Their needs are handled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans who meet the set eligibility requirements quality for VA disability benefits.2

Are Veterans With Substance Use Disorders Eligible for VA Benefits?

Many veterans come home with unresolved trauma and ongoing psychological problems due to their time in the military. In an attempt to overcome their mental health issues, they often resort to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. This sometimes leads to the development of substance use disorders and aggravation of their psychological symptoms. Some struggle with chronic pain, for which they are prescribed opioids, drugs that have a high potential for abuse, putting them at an even higher risk of developing an SUD.3

Currently, veterans’ eligibility for VA disability benefits cannot be based solely on their substance use. However, they can still get disability compensation if their problems originate from using a drug for a service-related condition. For example, a veteran may be struggling with the long-term side effects of opioids that they take for a condition that developed in the military. Also, substance abuse often co-occurs with mental health disorders that may be service-connected, like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Veterans can be eligible for VA disability benefits based on having those conditions.3

In addition, veterans can access treatment for SUDs using their veterans health benefits. Some of the services that can be covered by the VA health care program are:4

What Are Eligibility Criteria for VA Disability Pay?

Veterans can get benefits for either physical or mental impairments with the main requirement being that they are connected to their time in the military. To establish this service connection, their condition needs to be directly related to their active duty service. Some common examples of medical issues covered by VA benefits are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, hearing damage or loss, knee, back, and neck problems, and missing limbs.2

Typically, one has to receive a formal diagnosis of their condition before they can apply for VA disability pay. It is also necessary for the condition to either be ongoing or have consequences that persist in the present. For example, if a veteran broke their leg in combat, but the injury healed and left no residuals, they are not eligible. Persian Gulf War veterans are an exception to this rule, as they can be awarded benefits for what VA regulation deems an undiagnosed illness. The term is defined as symptoms that defy formal diagnoses and appear to be unrelated, such as excessive weight loss and disorders of the menstrual cycle.2

Other VA disability conditions are those whose onset predates the person’s time in the army. However, it is necessary to prove that the condition was exacerbated beyond its natural progression due to the veteran’s military service.2

What Is Included Under VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans are entitled to receive financial VA disability compensation if they meet the necessary conditions, namely that their disability developed or was exacerbated as a result of military service. The disability compensation is tax-free and paid on a monthly basis.5

The spouse, child, or parent of a service member who passed away while serving in the military can receive the tax-free financial aid called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. It can also be awarded to the surviving family members of a veteran who died from a service-related disability.5

Another tax-free financial benefit is the Special Monthly Compensation, often also called the aid and attendance benefit, which can be received either by veterans or by veterans’ spouses, surviving spouses, or parents. It is awarded in case the veteran cannot take care of themselves independently and needs the assistance of a caregiver.5

Can You Lose VA Disability Benefits Because of Substance Abuse?

If you are a veteran looking for inpatient or outpatient SUD treatment and want to use your health benefits to enter rehab, you may be worried that this will have an impact on your disability rating. However, disabled American veterans cannot lose their benefits simply because they have a substance use disorder. Also, veterans generally have an excellent choice of treatment centers that they can access via their VA health care or private health insurance, such as TRICARE.6

On the other hand, substance abuse can affect your eligibility and prevent you from receiving VA benefits in the first place. For instance, if a person was dishonorably discharged due to willful misconduct caused by substance abuse, they will not be eligible.6

Using drugs or alcohol does not automatically count as willful misconduct. However, excessive substance use, the misuse of prescription drugs, and addiction are considered as such. If a service member gets hurt while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and their behavior is determined to be willful misconduct, they will not receive VA disability benefits for the resulting injuries.6

Like other groups with specific needs, such as those seeking drug and alcohol rehab for men and couples looking for effective treatment, veterans need a treatment approach that’s tailored to them. The American Addiction Centers run a widespread network of modern, comfortable treatment facilities where veterans can obtain the specialized care they need and work with a skilled and experienced team of professionals. Their helpline is available 24/7 for any questions about entering treatment, including:

How Can One Lose VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans can lose their disability pay or have it reduced if they:7

  • Receive a prison sentence.
  • Commit fraud.
  • Don’t meet minimum service requirements.
  • Receive dishonorable discharge.
  • Partially or fully recover from their disability.
  • Have a disability that is a result of committing a violent crime.

The VA is required to notify the person of the possibility of losing their benefits and assign a time period when they can provide evidence to the contrary.7

How Are VA Disability Rates Determined?

The VA designates a disability rating based on the severity of the disability as outlined in the person’s medical records, the results of the claim exam, and other available data. If they determine that a veteran has several service-connected disabilities, the rating will reflect this. The highest rating one can receive is 100%.8

The amount of money a person will receive depends on their disability rating. People with a higher rating get higher monthly payments and they can often qualify for additional VA benefits, such as health care for veterans.9

What Does It Mean if You Have Multiple VA Disability Ratings?

A veteran who has multiple health problems that meet the VA disability conditions will get a rating that combines all of these disabilities. Since the ratings have a cumulative effect, the person will be eligible for a higher amount of veterans’ disability pay if they suffer from multiple service-connected disabilities.9 The VA uses a special Combined Ratings Table to calculate the final percentage, which can range from 0% to 100%.10

What Is the VA Substance Abuse Disability Rate?

Substance use disorders do not qualify a person for VA disability payment and are not considered when calculating a disability rating. However, many veterans have another service-connected disability that has caused their substance use disorder. For example, many individuals with PTSD or depression caused by their experiences on duty have substance abuse problems. This condition can qualify you for VA benefits.8

What Is the VA Benefits Rating for Other Conditions?

Veterans can claim VA disability benefits for a wide range of mental and physical illnesses as long as there is evidence that they are service-connected. They receive a unique disability rating depending on the seriousness of their condition and the degree to which their functioning is impacted. The VA assesses every claim individually by evaluating the submitted medical documentation and conducting a claim exam.11

There are some problems that frequently qualify veterans for VA disability compensation, including:11

  • Limb amputation.
  • Cancer as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals.
  • Chronic back conditions.
  • Hearing loss or damage.
  • Traumatic brain injury.
  • Severe scarring.
  • Mobility issues.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Ulcers.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.

The rating is calculated based on every person’s unique set of diagnoses and can vary from 0% to 100%.10

How Can You Claim VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans who want to submit their VA disability claim should enter their information in the online form provided by the VA to send in their application. Alternatively, they can submit the form in person or via email. A VA representative can assist you with filling out and submitting your claim.12

Before submitting the form, it is necessary to check your VA benefits eligibility. You will also have to collect evidence to support your claim. There may also be additional papers you will need to submit depending on your situation. By preparing all the documents in advance and gathering them carefully, you will help your claim be processed faster.12

Frequently Asked Questions