If the VA finds that an injury or illness resulted from willful misconduct, no benefits will be paid to the veteran based on that disability. Fortunately, the VA is required by law to presume that the injury or illness is not the result of willful misconduct. Only if the VA can prove that the veteran engaged in willful misconduct resulting in the claimed disability can benefits be denied.
What is willful misconduct?
The VA defines misconduct as "an act involving conscious wrongdoing ro known prohibited action".
Alcohol or Drug Abuse
Simple drinking alone is not considered alcohol abuse. Only where the drinking is so excessive as to cause disability or death will it be considered willful misconduct. Likewise the occasional use of drugs is not willful misconduct unless the drug use causes disability or death. Uses drugs to the point of addiction is ocndiered willful misconduct. However it is not willful misconduct to become addicted to a prescribed medication used for pain relief, nor is it willful misconduct when prescription drugs are used to treat a service-connected disability or when the addiction results from said disability.
VA will not pay compensation benefits disabilities that resulted from willful alcohol or drug abuse during service. If, however, the alcohol and drug abuse arose out of a service-connected disability or was due to the worsening of a service-connected disability, the veteran may be entitled to compensation.
The VA permits payment of benefits to veterans whose disability stems from a sexually transmitted disease, even where there was found to be willful misconduct. However, this will only by the case where the initial infection occurred during service. If the veteran was infected prior to service it is unlikely that any compensation will be paid.
Suicide by a servicemember does not automatically preclude eligible surviving family members from receiving benefits. A survivor can receive death benefits where it can be shown that the veteran was of "unsound mind" at the time of the suicide, and that the "unsound mind" was the result of a service-connected condition (such as post traumatic stress disorder).
For VA purposes "unsound mind" means the person wasn't capable of developing the intent to take their own life. Unless there is a motive for the suicide that would lead any reasonable person to be self-destructive, the VA will presume that the suicide resulted from mental unsoundness and eligibility for death benefits will be retained.