Drugs and alcohol are often used to cope with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Veterans who have experienced trauma in the military may be at higher risk for developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers treatment services for vets with alcohol and drug abuse issues to get the care they need to recover and navigate these challenges.
How To Apply For VA Health Care Benefits
To utilize the many resources that the VA has to offer, veterans must first apply for VA benefits at their local VA hospital or clinic.
You’ll need to bring your social security number, military discharge papers (DD214), gross household income, and any current health insurance information, including private insurance.
If there’s not a VA hospital nearby, veterans may also apply by phone, mail, or through a trained professional called an “accredited representative” who can help with the application process.
After the application is fully submitted, it takes less than a week for the VA to come to a decision. Once approved, you will be assigned a healthcare provider.
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Who Qualifies For Substance Use Disorder Treatment Through The VA?
You may be eligible for health care benefits, including substance abuse treatment, at the VA if you served in the active-duty military and didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge.
People who received an “other than honorable”, “bad conduct”, or “dishonorable” discharge may not be eligible for VA benefits, but can apply for a discharge upgrade to reassess the character of their discharge.
If you were discharged for a disability, are currently on Medicaid benefits, received a Purple Heart, or were a former prisoner of war (POW), you’re in a high-priority group and more likely to get maximum benefits.
Addiction Treatment Services Available Through The VA
Currently, over 1.1 veterans have a SUD. The VA can help veterans recover from substance abuse by offering evidence-based addiction treatment for veterans in a range of programs.
Inpatient treatment refers to 24-hour monitored addiction treatment in a residential facility. Veterans in the inpatient program will receive detox services as well as counseling until they’re ready to transition to a lower level of care.
Outpatient treatment does not require around-the-clock supervision and allows for clients to continue living at home and going to work while receiving care.
Services offered in an outpatient setting may include detoxification, group and individual counseling, and medication-assisted treatment.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Veterans abusing certain substances such as opioids, methamphetamine, alcohol, or cocaine may experience severe withdrawal symptoms upon quitting.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications such as methadone and buprenorphine in combination with behavioral therapies to reduce the need for inpatient detoxification. This is a highly effective method of reducing the occurrence of an overdose.
Detox is the process of cleansing the body of various drugs or alcohol toxins that a veteran has consumed.
Detoxification helps manage cravings and other withdrawal symptoms in a medically-monitored environment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a demonstrably effective treatment for issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and more.
CBT involves addressing unhelpful ways of thinking, learning patterns of unhelpful behavior, and ways to cope with psychological issues.
Along with CBT, trauma-related counseling and exposure therapy are some of the most common treatments for veterans with PTSD and other mental health disorders.
These treatments help veterans face the traumatic memories and situations they encountered so they can cope with them effectively.
Exposure therapy is particularly helpful in reducing the occurrence of flashbacks and nightmares.
Other behavioral health services through the VA health care system include:
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders
- relapse prevention
- support groups for drug addiction and alcohol use
- counseling for family members
- 12-step programs for alcohol abuse
- case management services for homeless veterans with mental illness
How To Pay For Drug And Alcohol Rehab Services At A VA Treatment Facility
The VA Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program provides medical, social, and rehabilitation therapies to eligible veterans.
If a veteran qualifies for full benefits, they can receive an array of evidence-based addiction treatment services at their local VA hospital with no out-of-pocket costs.
Tricare Insurance Coverage
Tricare is a federally run health insurance plan designed for active-duty military members, their dependents, retired veterans, survivors, and other immediate family members.
Those who qualify for Tricare may use it to get free or low-cost evidence-based addiction treatment.
Services covered by Tricare insurance for drug rehab include residential treatment, outpatient care, detox, MAT, and more.
While Tricare covers most essential health care services, holistic treatments and untested therapies are not covered unless they’re a part of a larger evidence-based treatment plan.
Veterans Choice Program
Due to high demand, VA treatment programs may have a long waitlist. To alleviate this bottleneck, veterans may use the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) to get the services they need.
VCP allows veterans to get care from a community provider if they can’t receive treatment at the VA. With this program, veterans may be responsible for copayments billed through the VA.
Find Substance Use Treatment For Veterans
Ex-service members in need of treatment for alcohol or drug use can find a range of evidence-based therapies through the VA Medical Center and other treatment centers.
If you or a loved one need help to find a rehab center that offers veterans services, call our hotline today for more information.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — Eligibility for VA health care
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — Mental Health
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — PTSD: National Center for PTSD