Substance Abuse Among Veterans

Struggling with addiction is a challenging and complex issue for anyone, including veterans, with research estimating that one in ten veterans develop a substance use disorder (SUD). Substances commonly misused by veterans include opioids, alcohol, and stimulants.

Adding to the necessity of treatment is the co-occurring presence of mental health conditions. Mental illness is a serious concern for veterans as it is estimated that one in four meet diagnostic criteria. Mental health conditions commonly seen in veterans include:

Recognizing the need for comprehensive treatment, the VA and other organizations offer veteran-specific programs for substance use and mental health disorders.

What Addiction Treatment Services Does The VA Provide?

The VA offers a wide range of services in support of veterans struggling with SUDs. The primary services include the following.

Detoxification Services

Depending on the individual, the first step is for the patient to undergo detoxification. This involves the medical management of withdrawal symptoms and keeping the person as comfortable as possible. Once the patient is stable, they can move forward with other aspects of treatment.

Inpatient Residential Treatment

Inpatient treatment provides around-the-clock medical care and support for those in recovery. This structured environment often provides various therapeutic techniques and can help eliminate outward distractions, allowing individuals to solely focus on recovery.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows veterans to continue their daily responsibilities while receiving care. These programs offer counseling, therapy, and medication management without the necessity of staying overnight.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves using specific medications to help a person safely taper off of a drug and manage dangerous withdrawal symptoms. This approach should be accompanied by supportive psychological and behavioral therapy.

Does VA Insurance Cover Addiction Treatment?

Rehab involves access to some or all of the prior four treatment options. Insurance coverage for these services will depend on individual circumstances and the type of services deemed necessary. The veteran will need to have the appropriate coverage and meet eligibility requirements.

Veterans enrolled in VA health care can access services at VA medical facilities or in the community through physicians and other caregivers who are part of the VA network. Either option is achieved through VA health care benefits (more commonly known as VA insurance). The covered services include inpatient and outpatient treatment, medication-assisted treatment, and counseling.

Does VA Insurance Cover Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

The VA understands that mental health and substance misuse often result in dual diagnosis. VA insurance coverage is available for this situation, although the coverage does depend on the veteran’s service-connected disability.

Service-connected disability measures the severity of a disability resulting from military service. The VA assigns a rating based on the severity of your service-connected condition(s), which determines your monthly disability compensation amount. Higher ratings (50%+) often mean priority VA care and copay exemptions.

While the VA can assign a disability rating for mental health conditions, the substance abuse rating is slightly different. The VA usually does not rate substance abuse as service-connected except in special cases. However, they can be considered as a secondary condition if it’s proven to be caused by a service-connected mental health condition.

A service-connected disability rating might influence coverage for dual diagnosis in the following ways:

  • If you have an increased rating due to dual diagnosis: if your mental health condition worsens due to substance abuse, you might be eligible for a higher disability rating. This would require a clear connection between the two.
  • Evidence for service connection: if you have a service-connected mental health condition and are struggling with substance abuse, it can be helpful evidence for claiming that the substance abuse is secondary to your mental health condition.

The VA website can provide helpful information about coverage options for dual diagnosis treatment.

How Do I Get Addiction Treatment Through VA Insurance?

To have access to addiction treatment through the VA insurance program:

  • The veteran must first enroll in VA health care.
  • To enroll, veterans can visit the nearest VA medical facility or contact the VA enrollment office.
  • At this point, the veteran may discuss their needs with a VA provider.
  • The veteran will be guided through the available programs and options and be provided with the necessary referrals.

The VA can help you better understand your eligibility for coverage.

What If I Have VA Insurance And Another Health Insurance Plan?

If the veteran has both VA insurance and another healthcare plan (such as private insurance or Medicare), the VA will manage the coordination of benefits to guarantee comprehensive coverage. It is important to note that sometimes the VA will be the primary insurer and other times the private insurer may be the primary payer. Discussing any questions and details with a VA representative is important.

Other Resources For Veterans

The VA is not the only source of help when seeking treatment for substance abuse. Other resources include:

  • SAMHSA: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers valuable information on SUDs and mental health conditions.
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Several veteran-focused nonprofits specialize in addiction treatment and mental health support. They offer peer counseling, support groups, and other assistance.
  • Community Mental Health Centers: These local facilities offer mental health and addiction services, often including sliding-scale fees based on income.
  • Veteran Centers: These community-based counseling centers offer social and psychological services to veterans and their families. They provide support groups, individual counseling, and referrals for various issues, including substance use disorders.
  • Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs): Well-established organizations like the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offer support and resources for veterans. They can also provide information on addiction treatment services.
  • Peer Support Programs: Many communities have peer support programs specifically designed for veterans. These programs bring veterans together with others who have faced similar challenges. The mutual interests and experiences of the participants can make all the difference.

If you are a veteran struggling with a substance use disorder, know that you are not alone. Resources are available to help you.

What Benefits Do Spouses And Dependents Of Veterans Receive?

Several factors determine the eligibility of spouses and dependents. Based on the veteran’s service-connected disability rating and other circumstances, such as income level, they may be eligible for care, including addiction treatment.

What If I Don’t Have VA Health Care Benefits?

If you or your loved one is struggling with a mental health condition or substance use disorder, it is crucial to stay optimistic and not lose hope. There are several viable options available to you, some of which have already been discussed. These options include community-based organizations, state and local programs, and private treatment facilities. While there may be costs associated with these alternatives, they are frequently provided at a reduced rate. It is worth noting that accessing these services may be challenging and may require more effort. Veterans should continue to explore their treatment alternatives, even if they are not eligible for VA insurance.

Taking The First Step

While the VA offers a wide range of addiction treatment services, private treatment facilities also provide comprehensive support to those seeking help. To explore these additional rehab options, contact a treatment provider today.