Impacts of Basic Income on Health and Economic Well-Being: Evidence from the VA’s Disability Compensation Program

We study impacts of a cash transfer program with no means-test and no work restrictions: the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Disability Compensation program. Our empirical strategy leverages quasi-random assignment of veterans claiming mental disorder disability to examiners who vary in their assessing tendencies. We find that an additional $1,000 per year in transfers decreases food insecurity and homelessness by 4.1% and 1.3% over five years, while the number of collections on VA debts declines by 6.4%. Despite facing virtually no direct monetary costs, healthcare utilization increases by 2.5% over the first five years, with greater engagement in preventive care and improved medication adherence. This demand response is in part explained by the ability to overcome indirect costs of accessing care ("ordeals"). Additionally, VA-conducted surveys suggest that transfers improve communication and trust between veterans and VA clinicians, leading to greater overall satisfaction. Apart from a reduction in self-reported pain, we estimate precise null effects on mental and physical health, including depression, alcohol and substance use disorders, body mass index, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Effects on mortality are small: we can rule out reductions greater than 0.011 percentage points (0.14%) over five years.