The statistics on veterans and alcohol abuse are alarming. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), between 2004­-2006, over 7 percent of all veterans met the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD). Alcohol use disorders (AUD) are widespread across all military branches and with veterans who return home after they’ve served their tour of duty.

Because of the psychological stress veterans face during service and the trauma they might witness or experience, veterans can sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trying to cope with this condition is often challenging, and many people use alcohol to deal with various symptoms. Over 20 percent of veterans who suffer from PTSD also have SUD or AUD.

Additionally, there's a growing increase in veterans returning home from service with PTSD. However, SAMHSA reports that only about 50 percent seek mental health treatment. Because these veterans don't receive adequate or proper medical care for their condition, they may self-medicate with alcohol.

If a veteran can service-connect his alcoholism to an incident or event while in the military, it’s possible he can get disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But this isn't easy to do, and it’s helpful to get legal representation from a VA disability attorney.

Why the VA Might Not Recognize Your Alcohol Disorder as a Disability

Requesting VA benefits for alcoholismThe causes of AUD aren't always easy to define. There can be many reasons a veteran abuses alcohol, including as a coping mechanism to keep a distance from the triggers that bring back nightmares and memories of traumatic incidents while in service. But sometimes, a veteran’s alcohol abuse isn’t related to active duty or time spent in the military.

Veterans may:

  • Have a genetic predisposition to alcohol
  • Drink out of a habit
  • Want to continue to be social
  • Value the rewarding properties of alcohol
  • Use it as a way to de-stress

When a veteran consumes alcohol for these reasons, develops AUD, and applies for disability from the VA, it’s very likely the VA will deny a claim because the alcohol abuse happened due to the veteran’s own “willful misconduct.”

How the VA Defines Willful Misconduct

In general, a veteran’s willful misconduct means “an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action.” Additionally, the definition includes “deliberate or intentional wrongdoing with knowledge of or wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences.” In other words, the veteran is engaging in behavior he knows can have harmful and dangerous results but ignores that knowledge.

Because a veteran has to service-connect his alcoholism, he may try to say that peer pressure in the military and the “military culture” caused his alcohol abuse, but this is a hard sell. The VA won’t compensate veterans if it determines a veteran’s alcoholism didn’t result from a mental illness such as PTSD or depression with a link to his experiences during active duty. If the VA denies benefits to a veteran with a claim for alcoholism, it must prove by a “preponderance of evidence” (more than likely not) that the condition didn't develop because of a service-connection.

Contact Cuddigan Law If You Need Help With Your VA Disability Claim

Submitting a successful VA disability claim for alcohol use disorder isn’t an easy process. A VA determination of willful misconduct can stand in the way of a veteran receiving benefits. At Cuddigan Law, we understand that veterans who suffer from PTSD can face many types of other medical conditions, including alcoholism. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we can help you if you need VA disability benefits following a diagnosis of PTSD or any other health condition. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska