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Self-perception of disability and prospects for employment among U.S. veterans


BACKGROUND: Barriers to employment in the civilian labor force are increasingly difficult problems for returning veterans with disabilities. Reduced self-perception of disability status because of predominant military norms can be particularly harmful to reintegration efforts.

OBJECTIVE: We analyze rates of self-identified and externally determined disability status among U.S. veterans. Evidence of a lower self-report rate would confirm the hypothesis that armed forces culture might hold back truly deserving veterans from seeking the benefits owed, including specialized employment training programs.

METHODS: We use data from the Current Population Survey Veterans Supplement over the sample period 1995—2010 on disability status and associated demographic characteristics to present descriptive measures and limited statistical inference.

RESULTS: Over the entire sample period, federal agencies considered 29% of the survey respondents to have a service-connected disability versus a 9% self-identification rate. The rate of more severe service-connected disabilities has risen steadily, while less drastic disability rates have fallen. Non-white respondents and those with lower education levels were less likely to self-identify.

CONCLUSIONS: Large disparities in internal and external disability status identification raise questions about targeting soldiers re-entering the labor force. Employment policy should focus on overcoming negative cultural stereotypes and encouraging self-identification.