What You Need to Know About Disability Rehab for Veterans
No matter the time or length of your service, the Department of Veterans Affairs understands that a returning soldier may develop an addiction as a way of treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or managing their pain. Note that addictions such as alcoholism are not considered to be disabilities by themselves. However, addictions tied to other conditions can contribute to your disability rating.
A Variety of Assistance
If you are physically injured in the line of duty, you may be able to file a pre-discharge claim that will allow you to transition from military pay to disability payments on a monthly basis.
For those who develop symptoms more than 180 days after their discharge, the application process is different. Because addiction alone does not qualify for a disability rating and subsequent benefits, you may need to contact an attorney to complete your application. For example, many veterans who struggle with PTSD take years to fully understand their symptoms and condition.
One of the challenges for veterans with PTSD is that there is not always a particular incident that triggered the condition. If you suffer a physical injury in a battle, you have a reference point for the source of your injury and a point in time to refer to: healthy before the incident and injured after the incident. PTSD often involves the accumulation of several events, and the results may not show up for years. Self-medication can push the symptoms to the side, but ultimately addictive substances will begin to cause their own damage and symptoms.
Detox and Rehab
Once you receive your disability rating, you may need or want to try various forms of therapy. For example, you may need to participate in talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to better understand the trauma points in your history as a soldier.
Sadly, many who have long self-medicated to manage symptoms of physical and mental pain may suffer a terrible flare-up during the detox phase. Because detoxing from drugs and alcohol is also painful, it is critical that you undergo a managed or supervised detox. During detox, you may be at risk of:
- Pain rebound and flare-ups
- Nausea and vomiting
No matter your intentions and the intentions of your loved ones, undergoing detox at home in the company of someone who loves you is not a good decision. You need monitoring, you may need restraining, and chances are good that you will not be pleasant company. If you need an IV to boost your fluid intake and manage nausea, your family will likely not understand the process or the risk. Talk to your therapist, attorney, and VA rep about finding a monitored, secure detox program.
During the rehab process, you will participate in therapy to help you manage the underlying condition that contributed to your addictions. PTSD self-treatment may have centered on alcohol when you were managing the condition. Your therapies may include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps you understand the connection between your beliefs and your behaviors.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which allows you to change the locked-in beliefs that are connecting you to traumatic events.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, which can take the vivid edge off a particularly disturbing memory.
There are also medications that can lower the severity of your PTSD experience.
As you better manage the underlying condition you have been trying to medicate away on your own, the rehab process will allow you to work on your physical condition. Prolonged exposure to drugs and alcohol, even if you felt that they were helping you to cope and function, can be incredibly hard on the body.
During drug rehab, your physical care may include monitoring your food and drink as well as monitoring your temperature, pulse, and respiration. You can also expect some rather intrusive questions about bowel and bladder concerns. Because alcohol puts a serious burden on your cleansing organs, staying hydrated and eating healthy foods will help you heal more quickly. Detox can cause an elevated body temperature, which can lead to dehydration.
Once you are dehydrated, your kidneys and gut may struggle to shed toxins. Rebuilding your health will include bringing these organs back online, which may include medications to help you increase your physical output.
Many veterans suffer from chronic pain following injuries in battle. If your use of illegal drugs and alcohol were part of your self-medication program to get on top of your physical pain, the rebound pain during detox might be severe. Finding new medications that will reduce your pain without raising your addiction risk may take some time and experimentation.
Your detox and rehab process may include training and guidance to build up your mindfulness skills. If you can learn to meditate during rehab, you can easily turn this process into a way to better manage your pain, both mental and physical.
Functionally, a helpful thing mindfulness can do for you is to create a separate head space. If you have found that you’ve become a stressed-out person who reacts or snaps back at everything that comes into range, meditation can help. Stop, take a deep breath, and note that you are safe and OK right where you are, right now. When your brain is ready for a battle, every connection with another person or a challenge will start to look like a combative situation. When you can unplug your brain from that combative view, you can relax at least a little bit and enjoy a safe space where you can think.
As noted above, detox is not an experience that you should share with those you love. However, as you come through the struggle of detox and move into rehab, connections with your mate, family, and friends may be the best things to help you be excited about your new outlook on life.
Group therapy with your spouse or with your spouse and children may be a wonderful way to reconnect in a neutral space and on a level playing ground. With a therapist in the room, the risk of stress to you and family contention around the circle will be lower.
If your parents are still in the picture or if you have siblings who want to stay connected or reconnect with you, these family therapies can also be incredibly helpful. There is a cultural understanding of what it takes to be a soldier. Some family members may have supported your enlistment, while others may not fully understand the drive. Building a corresponding cultural understanding of just how much combat costs soldiers is critical to building support for you as you work through detox and rehab.
This is also a good time to look into your genetic history. If you grew up in a home with a history of addiction, you might feel a great deal of shame about your situation and your condition. Do be prepared for some family members to fail to get around that history. Those who are embarrassed by a family member who abuses drugs or by their own addictive behaviors have their own work to do. Not everyone will benefit from your hard work or be able to comfortably reconnect with you.
If you and your partner are working hard to rebuild your relationship, it’s a good time to look at what the VA can do for your entire family. For returning soldiers who are not able to return to school for additional career training, it may be a good idea to transfer their GI bill benefits to their spouse or children for the best benefit to the whole family.
Depending on the level of disability you’re assigned, you may be able to turn that rating into a fresh start. As you better manage your underlying condition, addressing your addiction will make more sense. As your therapies for your underlying conditions have a bigger impact, you can back down from the fight-or-flight stress that some conditions can create.
As you make up for the time you lost when you were using or drinking, you may find that you have the space to move back into normal life. You may be able to return to school for more education, get support for a struggling small business, or simply receive training for a new job.
For those working through the VA detox and rehab programs, it’s also a very good time to look into other benefits. If you have been feeling isolated or ashamed due to addictive cravings and behaviors, you may not have fully availed yourself of the benefits that are available. Your VA benefits can help you buy a house, start a business, or go to school. These earned benefits can greatly expand your life as you move from rehab back into the “real” world.
You deserve support. Your family needs your benefits. No matter how long ago you served, there are conditions that may be causing long-term problems in your life. Again, please note that addiction is not a primary disability symptom. However, if you’ve been using drugs or alcohol to manage your pain, your addiction treatment can be covered by your veteran’s benefits. You can learn more about VA disability rehab for veterans at VeteranRehab.org.