Cover: Projections of Disability in the Department of Defense Workforce Through 2031

Projections of Disability in the Department of Defense Workforce Through 2031

Estimating Future Assistive Technology Requirements for Department of Defense Civilian Employees and Service Members

Published Apr 9, 2024

by Philip Armour, Michael S. Pollard, Yael Katz, Katie Feistel, Christina Panis, Mariah Brennan


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Research Questions

  1. What are the projections for future requests for AT?
  2. Will demographic changes in the DoD workforce affect requests for AT?
  3. What are the projected annual costs for providing AT?
  4. What are the projected ten-year costs for providing AT?

The Department of Defense (DoD) requires both current and projected estimates of the size of its workforce population with specific categories of disabilities. These estimates support the requirements under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the goals outlined in multiple executive orders, including Executive Order 14035, directing DoD to hire employees with disabilities and provide them with reasonable accommodations. These estimates are necessary to determine the assistive technology (AT) required and its anticipated costs through 2031.

AT also furthers DoD's goals in aiding the recovery and retention of injured service members, as well as the broader DoD and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) community in aiding in the post-service employment of service members who are medically separating. Thus, the authors seek to estimate the potential demand for AT from these groups.

The authors give projections of the DoD civilian employee population — and of injured and wounded service members — with specific disabilities categorized by DoD's centralized AT procurer (hearing, vision, cognitive, and dexterity disabilities), as well as the potential anticipated requests for AT by these populations and their costs between 2021 and 2031.

Key Findings

  • The report estimates all DoD workers and service members who are accommodation sensitive — those with health conditions that interfere with their work and for whom AT would lessen this interference — not just those that DoD's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) alone has procured technology for.
  • The demographic composition of the DoD civilian workforce will shift; differences in disability prevalence by age and race/ethnicity will thus affect disability prevalence in the workforce.
  • The projected annual costs for potential AT requests are estimated to be between $14.5 and $18.1 million in 2021 dollars; these estimates are likely larger than requests that any single DoD agency would receive, because they include direct fulfilled requests, fulfilled requests to any potential accommodation provider, and unfulfilled requests.
  • Following Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections of annual increases in costs per unit, a growing workforce scenario projects a ten-year cost of $121,440,482, and a shrinking workforce scenario projects a cost of $113,093,436 for the DoD civilian population; costs for the entire federal workforce are estimated to be $653,228,985.
  • Following CBO projections of price increases, a high scenario projects a ten-year cost of $38,704,111; a low scenario projects a cost of just under $19,058,441; and an average scenario is $26,130,650 for wounded service members referred to a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB).
  • Following CBO projections of price increases, a high scenario projects a ten-year cost of $53,109,887; a low scenario projects a cost of $39,150,090; and an average scenario is $44,964,801 for wounded service members continuing on active duty.

This research was sponsored by Defense Human Resources Activity in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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