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Research Questions

  1. What are the existing return-to-work policies and programs for service members and veterans with service-related injuries?
  2. Is the available literature on return-to-work resources helpful? How much focuses specifically on policies and programs available for service members and veterans with physical injuries?

As large numbers of service members and veterans, many with serious injuries, return from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is critical to examine the types of return-to-work resources available to help wounded warriors obtain and retain gainful employment and to understand the effectiveness of these programs. RAND researchers examined existing return-to-work policies and programs for military men and women with service-related injuries and conducted an initial review of the available literature on return-to-work resources, focusing when possible on policies and programs specifically available for service members and veterans with physical injuries. The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs should seek to build the evidence base concerning return-to-work programs, in order to understand which programs are most effective, which provide a return on investment, and what strategies are needed to encourage service members and veterans to utilize them (e.g., coordination). The DoD and the VA have been and will continue to be held accountable for the successful reintegration of service members and veterans who have been injured while serving.

Key Findings

Employment Programs Need More Coordination

  • Financial incentives such as disability payments may be serving as return-to-work disincentives
  • There are few metrics to be had regarding which programs are most effective in aiding service members and veterans in obtaining gainful employment and sustaining long-term job retention.
  • What programs do exist are poorly coordinated and can be difficult to navigate.
  • Other barriers, such as workplace culture, also need to be addressed.

Recommendations

  • The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs should seek to build the evidence base concerning return-to-work programs, in order to understand which programs are most effective, which provide a return on investment, and what strategies are needed to encourage service members and veterans to utilize them.
  • Programs supported by the evidence should be financially supported and widely disseminated.

This research is sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted jointly within the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research and Forces and Resources Policy Center, part of the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation occasional paper series. RAND occasional papers may include an informed perspective on a timely policy issue, a discussion of new research methodologies, essays, a paper presented at a conference, or a summary of work in progress. All RAND occasional papers undergo rigorous peer review to help ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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