Current application rates suggest that more than half of OEF/OIF Veterans will eventually apply for some form of service-connection, with approximately 100,000 Veterans per year being evaluated for psychiatric conditions. Veterans applying for service-connection for psychiatric conditions are in distress, and often are having occupational difficulties, but these are unaddressed during a typical Compensation and Pension evaluation. Counseling that addresses beneficiaries' concerns about losing compensation payments if working for pay, when supplemented by vocational supports, has been associated with increased employment among people disabled by chronic psychiatric conditions. Our group has developed an online Benefits Counseling intervention tailored to help Veterans applying for service-connection engage in work-related activities. We have demonstrated the efficacy of a face-to-face version of Benefits Counseling in a completed RR&D-funded six-month clinical trial in which Veterans assigned to Benefits Counseling worked significantly more days than controls,(p<.05, effect size = 0.69), reflecting an average of three more days of employment at six month follow-up. We then used a supplement from RR&D to develop a web-based version of this counseling, so that the counseling could be delivered without a counselor on-site. The web-based intervention was modified based on user feedback, but the extent to which it will be used by Veterans at home and how it will impact their behavior is unknown. In the proposed clinical trial, Veterans working two or fewer days per week who are presenting for a Compensation & Pension examination for a psychiatric disorder will be assessed at baseline and then urged to log in afterwards to a website for random assignment to either Remotely-Delivered Benefits Counseling (n=65) or Veterans Benefits Administration web sites (n=65), and will then be assessed at 4, 12, and 24 weeks after randomization in order to calculate standardized group mean differences between the slopes over time. The primary outcome measure will be the treatment-by-time slope of hours of paid work. Exploratory analyses will estimate associations of potential mediators of treatment response with this outcome. The proposed study will provide estimates of the efficacy of remotely-delivered Benefits Counseling initiated at Compensation and Pension examinations, a widely-used point of contact with VA.
A significant portion of Veterans who apply for disability benefits have difficulty finding and sustaining employment, and are concerned that working for pay will jeopardize their receipt of service-connection benefits. In a completed clinical trial, Veterans who received Motivational Interview-formatted counseled about opportunities to work and receive service-connection went on to work for pay significantly more often than controls. The proposed clinical trial will test this counseling's efficacy when it is delivered by an automated computer program.