Military Law

Willful Misconduct and Your VA Benefits

You may be entitled to certain benefits if you serve in the military. These benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Two of the most important VA benefits are pensions and disability compensation. If you suffer from a disease or injury, these benefits may be available to help you and your family out financially.

However, you may be denied coverage by the VA. If your injury is the result of willful misconduct on your part, the VA can prevent you from receiving any benefits for your disability.

What Is Willful Misconduct?

Willful misconduct means that you know that you're committing a wrongful act. You disregard any bad consequences. The VA doesn't want to have to pay for disabilities that are knowingly brought on by bad behavior. You probably won't be able to receive benefits if your poor health condition is the result of willful misconduct. Some common situations that may be labeled by the VA as willful misconduct include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Venereal disease
  • Suicide

Alcohol Abuse

If you suffer from alcoholism, any illnesses from this disease won't be compensated by the VA. Alcohol abuse is considered willful misconduct. There must be excessive use of alcohol over a period of time. Simply drinking an alcoholic beverage isn't willful misconduct. The VA does offer treatment programs to help with any alcohol addiction.

Drug Abuse

Any disability as the result of drug abuse will be denied compensation. Drug abuse means using an illegal drug. It can also mean using a legal drug for another purpose than what it's intended for. However, just like alcohol abuse, the VA will provide a drug abuse treatment program to help with any addiction.

Tobacco Use

If you have a disease that was caused by the use of tobacco, the VA may consider this willful misconduct. In the past, veterans who began to smoke in the military were eligible for disability benefits. The VA didn't treat tobacco use the same as alcohol and drug abuse. However, legislation was passed that cut VA benefits for tobacco-related illnesses. The VA does offer programs to help you quit smoking. This includes medication to help in the process.

Venereal disease

If you suffer from a venereal disease, you may be able to receive VA benefits. The disease must have been contracted during your military service. The VA will deny compensation if the disease occurred before or after your military service.


The VA can deny benefits if a veteran commits suicide. The suicide must be intentional. However, the VA won't consider the suicide willful misconduct if the person had a mental illness. If the person is mentally unsound, he can't form the required "intent" that's required for willful misconduct. The mental unsoundness must be related to military service. If it is, the veteran's family is eligible for VA benefits.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the benefits of having an attorney help me receive any military benefits?
  • If my spouse commits suicide, how can I prove he was mentally unsound?
  • Would I receive disability compensation if my injury is only partially the result of alcohol or drug abuse?
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