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A large study comparing Vietnam War-era military veterans who became eligible for disability compensation with ineligible veterans found that eligibility for compensation was associated with substantial reductions in hospitalizations—an important metric of overall health.

The longer the eligible veterans received disability payments, the greater the decline in hospitalizations was among that group, the researchers found. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, included 70,471 Vietnam War-era veterans.

“The takeaway is that there may be very important health benefits to receiving disability compensation,” says author Amal Trivedi, a professor of health services, policy, and practice and of medicine at Brown University.

The potential cost savings as a result of fewer hospitalizations should be considered in future changes to the federal Veterans Affairs disability compensation program, he adds. In 2020, more than 5 million veterans received a total of $91 billion in compensation for disabling conditions related to military service. The payments apply to individuals with lower socioeconomic status and worse health than the general population. The payments typically occur until a recipient’s death.

Because of the structure of the disability compensation program, Trivedi says, it stands to reason that it might have important effects on veterans’ health, especially considering the robust evidence of the association between income and health. However, there has been little research on the association between disability compensation and veteran’s health.

A change in VA disability policy in 2001 provided Trivedi and his research team the opportunity to examine the association between eligibility for disability compensation with mortality and hospitalizations among veterans with diabetes. The study merged data from the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Association, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Vietnam War-era military records from the Department of Defense. Most of the people in the study were male veterans with a diagnosis of diabetes and performed military service between 1961 and 1975.

The researchers examined changes in health outcomes for veterans in three equal periods: 2001 to 2006, 2007 to 2012, and 2013 to 2018. They note that annual disability compensation increased over these three time periods—compared to the non-eligible veterans, eligible veterans received $8,025, $14,412, and $17,162 more in benefits during the three periods, respectively....

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