Veterans seeking disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder: Who applies and the self-reported meaning of disability compensation

Nina A. Sayer, Michele Spoont, Dave Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Assumptions about the characteristics and motivations of individuals pursuing disability status are well known. However, policy, programming and interventions need to be based on information about the actual sociodemographic characteristics of disabled individuals, as well as their goals in seeking disability status. In this study, we focus on veterans seeking disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. We present information on their life circumstances and their self-reported reasons for valuing the obtainment of veterans' disability status on the basis of PTSD. There was considerable variability in the background of veterans seeking disability status on the basis of PTSD. Of concern, only about half of these individuals were receiving any mental health treatment at the time of application. Most claimants reported seeking disability compensation for symbolic reasons, especially for acknowledgement, validation and relief from self-blame. Reasons having to do with improved finances were less frequently endorsed, although the importance of obtaining improved solvency through disability status decreased as income increased. The sense of investment in obtaining a sense of self-acceptance and acceptance from others through disability status varied by sociodemographic variables. Overall, findings suggest that individuals seeking disability benefits may have unmet mental health care needs, and that policy makers, investigators and providers should consider material benefit as one of many possible reasons for engaging in a disability compensation system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2133-2143
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is based upon work funded by a Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Grant (IIR 98-057-2). We would like to thank the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center for its support of this project.


  • Compensation
  • Disability
  • Mental health
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • USA
  • Veterans


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