Giving people with severe drug or mental health problems may dramatically increase the odds that they will be able to return to work.

Disability benefits also seem to help people with musculoskeletal problems return to work.

Timothy Moore, an economist at George Washington University, reported that finding in a draft paper posted behind a paywall on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Moore conducted the research by looking at records for Social Security Disability Insurance recipients who lost access to program benefits as a result of a policy change that took effect in 1996.

Moore found that about one-fifth of the SSDI recipients who lost eligibility ended up earning enough that they would have lost access to the SSDI benefits as a result of a successful return to work.

The effect was 50 percent larger for recipients who had been getting benefits for two-and-a-half years to three years than for people who had been getting SSDI for less than one year, and it was 30 percent larger for recipients who had been getting benefits for two-and-a-half years to three years than for people who had been getting benefits for more than six years.

Getting SSDI benefits for a certain period of time does not seem to have a similar effect on people who have heart disease or liver disease, Moore writes.

The return-to-work response is higher for workers who got SSDI benefits immediately than for workers who got benefits after appealing an initial rejection.

The difference could be because the workers who won after appealing faced more skeptical reviewers and had to do more to show that they were really disabled, but Moore said he thinks the workers in the immediately accepted group were probably in worse health than the initially denied group.

The results that “those in the poorest health when applying for [SSDI] were the ones whose work capacity improved the most, and that [SSDI] receipt was the primary cause of this improvement,” Moore says.

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