Getting a Veteran or Military Spouse Into Rehab
Military life and experiences are unique, bringing in stressors and challenges that the average civilian might never have to face. These stressful situations and demands of service make it more likely that a military service professional or even a member of the immediate family may wrestle with substance abuse issues at some point.
According to recent statistics, more than 25% of military veterans struggle with illicit drug use and more than 80% reported having an issue with alcohol use. In addition, the use of prescription drug use has skyrocketed in recent years, with many legitimate prescriptions succumbing to excessive use and abuse. Loneliness, extreme stress, fatigue, and other high anxiety situations lead many military service members to minimize emotional damage and mental illness with illicit drug use.
Causes of Veteran and Military Spouse Substance Abuse
Former members, retired service personnel, and military spouses are not immune to addiction. This dedicated group of people deals with immensely complex economic and health challenges daily. Psychological stressors of combat and the demands of rigorous training can trigger substance abuse. Enduring long deployments and cross-country moves can lead to the breakdown of relationships. Veterans attempting to assimilate into society after service can face issues such as homelessness and unemployment; it’s not surprising that this population can use substances such as alcohol and drugs to deal with hardships and adjustments to civilian life. Some possible causes of substance abuse in the military population include the following.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Military service professionals must endure highly stressful and distressing events, some on many different occasions. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition in which past memories and experiences continue to plague someone in the form of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that cause a great deal of distress. Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by the following:
- Persistent invasive and distressing memories of an event or events
- Flashbacks where an individual relives the details of an event
- Prolonged emotional distress
- Physiological triggers that produce physical and emotional distress
- Panic attacks
- Inability to sleep
- Physical symptoms of a panic attack such as loss of appetite, shortness of breath, etc.
In an attempt to shut out distressing symptoms, a person may turn to substance use and abuse to numb the pain they feel. Over time, this utilitarian use of substances becomes abuse, and a person becomes powerless to stop or reduce their use of a specific substance.
Mental Health Issues
Veterans and their spouses can be more susceptible to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The daily mental, emotional, and physical struggle associated with these mental conditions is very taxing and can cause some to turn to substance use and abuse to avoid difficult emotions.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
If a service member has experienced traumatic brain injury during their term of service, they may be at increased risk for turning to substance use and abuse because of cognitive impairment and inability to process information and emotions.
Studies have shown that exposure to participation in combat situations can increase the incidence of mental health disorders. All of these situations can contribute to an increased risk of alcohol and drug use.
Chronic Pain Due to Injury
It is quite common for service members to incur injuries and develop chronic pain as a result of their duties. Alcohol and prescription drugs that are temporarily used to treat pain can quickly become abuse situations used to deal with ongoing physical and emotional pain.
History of Misuse During Service
A history or track record of heavy recreational drug and alcohol use can put one at risk of future substance abuse. This is true even for those no longer in service.
Inability to Handle Stress
Military service members and their families experience unprecedented levels of stress in their daily lives. These heavy physical and emotional demands can cause many to turn to drug and alcohol use to take the edge off.
Difficulty Transitioning to the Life of a Civilian
Life in the military is quite different from civilian life. Service members do not need to deal with issues like obtaining housing, food, and other responsibilities. The challenge of diving back into civilian life is enough to trigger substance use to make these responsibilities seem bearable.
Getting Help for Your Addiction
If you suspect that you or your spouse have developed a dependence on drugs or alcohol, there is hope. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers you and your family members various benefits including physical and mental health services that can offer you relief from some of the negative impacts of your military service. Seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse can be accessed through CHAMPVA or TRICARE. These institutions may cover:
- Both emergency and non-emergency inpatient services
- Comprehensive outpatient programs
- Management of treatment and withdrawal symptoms
- Medication protocols for treatment
- Mental health services
- Office-grounded use of opioids for treatment
- Hospitalization programs
- Residential treatments
Military spouses who qualify for CHAMPVA are allowed up to three treatment periods during their lifetime. The treatment periods start on the first day of covered treatment and last for 365 days, regardless of how many treatment services a covered person receives during the 365-day period. While these treatment periods are not offered completely free of charge, there is a significant saving to you, with CHAMPVA covering around 75% of expected costs for conventional treatment. CHAMPVA-covered services include outpatient rehabilitation, medically supervised detoxification services, and inpatient and hospital rehabilitative services.
Does Your Spouse Have Full Benefits for Life?
Both veterans and spouses must deal with the unique struggles of being in the military. Because of this additional stress, VA benefits are not taken from either veterans or spouses unless it can be proven that a disability or injury was caused by substance abuse. Marriage is considered a qualifying life event, which means that spouses are eligible for VA benefits immediately after marriage. Taking advantage of these military benefits may be the way forward for those of you struggling with substance abuse issues.
Enrolling in a Plan
The first significant step toward receiving substance use treatment through your VA benefits is to enroll in a qualifying VA-approved healthcare plan. If you have not already signed up for VA benefits, now is the time to do so. Once enrolled, you will need to visit your local VA medical provider to discuss substance use-related struggles and how they relate to your physical and mental health. The more honest and open you can be about your drug and alcohol use, the more likely that your doctor can provide you with the resources you need for proper medical and psychological treatment.
Review Treatment Programs
As you dig into possible treatment programs, work closely with your VA insurance provider to find programs that address veteran-specific concerns and issues. Certain aspects of veteran-approved programs address issues like PTSD, chronic pain, and injuries that may make addiction recovery a bit more challenging. Finding the right fit for you that uses your benefits will give you peace of mind that all of your needs will be met as you move forward toward better physical and mental health.
Choose a Program and Commit to Ongoing Success and Growth
Once you have chosen a program that fits all of your insurance needs and personal preferences, it is time to commit to building a healthier, more peaceful life. You have no doubt had physical and mental stresses that many will never experience in their lifetimes, but that is no excuse for failing to choose a better life for yourself and your loved ones. Continue to consult VA doctors and insurance professionals to ensure that all aspects of your care are in compliance with VA standards, and look forward to a new life with better health, safety, and options for a brighter, more hopeful future.
Remain Accountable and Open to Change
Rehabilitation and recovery after substance abuse is a lifelong journey. There will be times when you struggle and face temptation; recognizing these as fleeting situations will put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to making a conscious choice to undergo lasting change.
Finding the right treatment protocol for you involves reaching out to your local VA medical facility. A qualified benefits professional will be able to help you navigate the process of enrollment, if necessary, and then provide you with resources and treatment options designed specifically for veterans and military spouses. You choose your course of treatment, and we will help you find the connections needed to structure a program that works for you, your family, and your budget. There is life after addiction, and the road to recovery can be a joyous process of discovery if you choose to embrace the ride. You deserve to craft the healthy, happy life of your dreams. For help getting there, you can reach out to VeteransRehab.org to find a variety of resources for veterans and military families.