The Labor Supply of Veterans with Disabilities: 1995-2014

Matthew S. Rutledge, Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Caroline V. Crawford

NBER Disability Research Center Paper No. NB 15-12
Issued in September 2015

Disabled veterans are less likely to work today than in the past; between 1995 and 2014, the percent of veterans who were working while receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dropped from 62 percent to 49 percent. This drop has led the VA – which liberalized the list of health conditions that qualify veterans for benefits in the early 2000s – to face the same concern as the Social Security Administration: that the proportion of individuals receiving disability income who could work, but do not, has grown. Using the Current Population Survey’s Veterans Supplement, this paper finds that employment and labor force participation rates have fallen for disabled veterans only modestly more than for non-disabled veterans. Adjusting for the rapid aging of the disabled veteran population reduces the gap in labor market activity between disabled and non-disabled veterans by 40-70 percent. Although the share of veterans with disability ratings of 50 percent or greater (indicating severe disability) has increased, the most-disabled veterans have not reduced their labor market activity – if anything, their labor supply has actually increased. The results suggest that the decline in employment and labor force participation of disabled veterans is largely a function of age and the increased prevalence of severe disability and not a changing propensity for work. This finding should alleviate concerns that the Veteran’s Administration disability system is discouraging employment any differently than in the past.

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