Veteran Disability Compensation and the Army Profession: Good Intentions Gone Awry

  • January 29, 2021
  • Dr Wong Leonard, Dr Gerras Stephen

Previous studies analyzing disability compensation have decried its $76 billion annual budget or warned of its perverse ability to incentivize veterans not to work. This study focuses on the impact of this moral hazard on the US Army profession. If soldiers continue to capitalize on an extremely permissive disability system, the trust between society and the military may be threatened, and future Army readiness may be jeopardized should disability compensation be added to the marginal cost of a soldier. More importantly, many of today’s soldiers are rationalizing disability compensation as something owed to them—not for a debilitating injury, but for the hardships of service to the nation. This study uses US Army and Department of Veterans Affairs personnel files, soldier interviews, and discussions with senior leaders to support its conclusions. The intent of the study is to prompt the Army profession to act before the culture surrounding disability compensation becomes permanent. In the end, the essence of the entitlement—taking care of veterans—must remain sacrosanct. This call for reform is driven not by fiscal considerations, but by a desire for the Army to remain both an institution trusted by society and a profession marked by selfless service.