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Residential Rehab: Long-Term Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Veterans

Residential rehab facilities provide medical treatment for veterans as they recover from drug and alcohol abuse. For many veterans, the distractions of daily life and stressful surroundings can impact their ability to focus effectively on recovery. This is why attending treatment in a residential setting, and especially in a facility that offers veterans-specific programming, can be a beneficial treatment option.

Residential rehab can involve either a short-term stay at an inpatient treatment combined with a long-term residential rehab or just a residential stay, depending on your needs. Learning about your options can help you make the best decision about getting started on the path to recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.

Table of Contents

What is Residential Rehab?

According to the VA, more than 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program (which includes residential treatment) in 2018.1 While the VA doesn’t detail what number or percentage went to residential rehab, it remains an option for veterans seeking care. Those in residential rehab will live at the facility for the duration of treatment. This allows the staff to offer abuse treatment and mental health services in a safe, comfortable, and distraction-free environment. This also helps veterans focus on recovery and begin to heal from addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Residential drug treatment for veterans can address the unique challenges former service members face when struggling with substance abuse. Many veterans who return from combat or active duty face the challenges of reintegrating into daily life and society. Many veterans struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders as well. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety are some of the more common mental health disorders that afflict the veteran population.

Residential treatment is effective and beneficial for many veterans. A study in the journal Recent Developments in Alcoholism examined over 3,000 patients from 15 VA inpatient substance abuse treatment programs and showed that they experienced “considerable improvement” from intake to a one-year follow-up.2 Another study published in the journal Psychological Services showed that veterans who had a longer length of stay in residential PTSD treatment had less severe PTSD symptoms at discharge. These veterans who stayed in residential treatment longer also required less ongoing care at outpatient mental healthcare facilities the following year. The study also showed that a longer stay in residential PTSD treatment was associated with improved alcohol-related outcomes, and veterans who experienced improved alcohol outcomes had fewer PTSD symptoms.3 A 2015 VA report explains that the average relapse rate (based on readmission to VA residential substance abuse programs) was 7.2%, but this figure alone is not necessarily an indication of rates of effectiveness.4

Residential vs Inpatient Rehab: What’s the Difference?

Both residential rehab and inpatient rehabs require you to live at the facility for the length of treatment. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences in the ways that certain rehabs and treatment centers use these terms. Generally speaking, stays at residential rehab can last between 6-12 months.5 Inpatient rehab may be shorter than residential rehab (from 3 weeks to 90 days) and take place in hospital-like settings. Inpatient rehabs are typically geared toward helping you through detox and a short period thereafter. At that point, you may transition to a residential drug treatment center or outpatient treatment.

Benefits and Services of Residential Rehab for Veterans

Studies have shown that veterans who struggle with substance abuse often have mental health concerns. They may also have other co-occurring medical conditions such as obesity, sleep problems, physical injuries, and chronic pain. These may be compounded by social or life issues like lower overall quality of life, poor relationships, and higher levels of aggression.6

One of the main benefits of residential rehab is the longer duration of stay. Many studies show that longer treatment is often associated with improved outcomes.7 In addition, residential rehab services tend to be more comprehensive; you can address your co-occurring problems and develop a long-term relationship with your counselors, which helps to cement the skills you’ll need to maintain lifelong sobriety.

It’s important to remember that people don’t learn new skills or overcome serious trauma overnight. While acute difficulties can often be addressed in a few sessions, trauma or other mental health challenges typically require more time and a trusting relationship with your therapist.

Residential rehab provides 24/7 care and monitoring to help support you through recovery. Any needs that could arise during your stay can be addressed immediately. The longer duration of residential rehab allows you to treat your physical and mental health challenges, build better social and stress management skills, and address your substance abuse issues through various types of treatments and evidence-based therapies. Some of the services and therapies provided in residential drug rehab include:

  • Screening to assess your mental and physical health, identifying the type and extent of your disorders, and determining the most appropriate type of treatment for your needs.
  • Medical detox, which is an intervention that helps you safely and comfortably stop using the substance so you can become medically stable.
  • Marriage and family counseling, which can help you repair and rebuild relationships with important people in your life.
  • Self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). You may benefit from the support of others who have had similar experiences.
  • Medication to help you through withdrawal, manage cravings, and maintain abstinence.
  • Process groups, where a therapist helps you learn new skills and develop healthier ways of communication.
  • Evidence-based therapies are offered on an individual basis or as a part of group therapy. Examples include:
    • PTSD treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which helps you integrate unprocessed memories and traumas, or Cognitive Processing Therapy, which helps you modify old or unhelpful beliefs about the trauma.
    • Skills-focused therapies — such as anger management, stress management, or relapse prevention — through which you build new skills and cultivate healthier or more appropriate ways of coping.
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify and change unhelpful or negative ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Aftercare and relapse prevention, which helps you stay sober and avoid alcohol and/or remain abstinent from drugs.

How Long Does Residential Rehab Last?

The average length of stay in a residential rehab depends on each person’s situation. Factors include the extent of your addiction, how long you’ve been using, and the severity of symptoms associated with any co-occurring disorders. The VA reports that the average length of stay in a residential treatment program is around 31 days. Treatment at a longer-term residential rehab can be much lengthier —up to 12 months, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.5

How Much Does Residential Rehab Cost?

The cost of residential rehab can vary widely based on many different factors. The level of care you require, your insurance coverage, the facility’s rate, and other factors can all influence the cost and length of your stay.

Is Long-Term Rehab Covered by Insurance or the VA?

Long-term rehab may be covered by insurance or the VA, but your exact coverage can vary. It’s advisable to look into your insurance coverage as well as confirm with the VA to determine your benefits and see what additional requirements may apply to your situation. VA benefits should cover medical and substance abuse services; you can check with the VA’s Benefits program to be sure.

If you are enrolled in the VA’s healthcare system, residential rehab services may be covered. The VA reports that your comprehensive benefits package includes “all the necessary inpatient hospital care and outpatient services to promote, preserve or restore your health.” This includes inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment.10

The VA’s Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment programs cover residential rehabilitative and clinical care to veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues. It’s still recommended that you verify your exact coverage. Contact the VA at 1-877-222-8387 or go to the Ebenefits website to be sure you are enrolled with the VA’s healthcare system and check the details of your plan.11

Veterans who are not enrolled in the VA’s healthcare system may still be eligible for substance abuse and mental health care. They must meet certain requirements, such as having served in a combat zone or being at risk of homelessness. You can learn more about how to apply for VA coverage here. To read more about the substance abuse and mental health services covered by the VA, visit the substance abuse treatment for veterans website.

You Might Also Be Interested In


  1. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021). Office of Research & Development: VA Research on Mental Health.
  2. Finney, J. W., Ouimette, P. C., Humphreys, K., & Moos, R. H. (2001). A comparative, process-effectiveness evaluation of VA substance abuse treatment. Recent developments in alcoholism, 15, 373–391.
  3. Banducci, A. N., Bonn-Miller, M. O., Timko, C., & Rosen, C. S. (2018). Associations between residential treatment length, PTSD, and outpatient healthcare utilization among veterans. Psychological services, 15(4), 529–535.
  4. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. (2015). Review of the Operations and Effectiveness of VHA Residential Substance Use Treatment Programs.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Types of Treatment Programs.
  6. Teeters, J. B., Lancaster, C. L., Brown, D. G., & Back, S. E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 8, 69–77.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Principles of Effective Treatment.
  8. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems.
  9. American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: How Long Will It Take for Treatment to Work?
  10. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). Health Benefits.
  11. Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Programs.