Temporal trends in disability evaluation and retirement in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps: 2005–2011

Marlene E. Gubata, M.D., M.P.H., Elizabeth R. Packnett, M.P.H., David N. Cowan, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1, p70–77
Published online: September 23, 2013
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2013.08.003


Surveillance of trends in disability is necessary to determine the burden of disability on the U.S. military, the most common types of disability conditions, and the prevalence of combat exposures in the disability population. Previous studies of disability in the U.S. military have focused on a particular service or condition rather than examining the epidemiology of disability in the military overall.


This study’s objective is to describe rates of disability evaluation and retirement in U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.


A cross-sectional study of 126,170 service members evaluated for disability discharge from the U.S. military in fiscal years 2005–2011 was conducted. Crude and standardized rates of disability evaluation and retirement were calculated per 10,000 service members by year of disability, demographic characteristics, and type of disability evaluation or retirement. Temporal trends in the prevalence of combat-related disability in the disability evaluated and retired population were also examined.


Rates of disability evaluation and retirement were highest among female, enlisted, and active duty service members. Overall rates of disability evaluation significantly decreased, while rates of disability retirement increased. Rates of psychiatric disability evaluation and retirement significantly increased in all services during the same time period from 2005 to 2011. Combat-related disability evaluations and retirements have substantially increased in all services particularly among psychiatric disability cases.


Psychiatric disability, combat-related disability, and disability retirement continue to increase in the military, despite observed decreases in the rates of disability the Department of Defense since 2005.