Drawing upon its experience in disability, behavioral, and employment research, MDRC tested the Progressive Goal Attainment Program (PGAP) for Veterans starting in 2012. The study was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Connecticut Healthcare System and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas, and was completed in 2015. PGAP is a behavioral intervention that addresses the rehabilitation needs of individuals struggling with a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. The program is designed to complement existing clinical services for the treatment of disabilities by targeting psychological and social factors that contribute to pain, disability, and inactivity. The goal is to help those with disabilities resume normal life activities, increase their quality of life, and facilitate their return to work.
Many U.S. military veterans experience mental and physical disabilities that can increase their risk of substance abuse, social isolation, unemployment, and homelessness. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it urgent once again to address these issues, as the nation faces the largest wave of returning veterans with disabilities in recent history. One in four veterans of these conflicts reports a service-connected disability, and unemployment among the youngest veterans is particularly high.
Veterans with disabilities may need quality programs to help them return to work and integrate into society. However, there is limited evidence about what interventions are effective in helping veterans reenter civilian society, especially the labor market. Past research suggests that symptoms and impairments explain only a small part of the variance in work disability, and that beliefs and attitudes often keep people with disabilities from gainful employment. Similarly, researchers at the VA have suggested that disabled veterans’ attitudes and beliefs about disability have at least as big an impact on their ability to return to work as their actual physical or mental conditions. PGAP was designed to address and tackle those barriers. The program was well received by veterans who participated in it, and the study identified promising practices that could be used to help veterans in the future.