Functional recovery and outcome from severe burns is oftentimes judged by the time required for a person to return to work (RTW) in civilian life. The equivalent in military terms is return to active duty. Many factors have been described in the literature as associated with this outcome. Hand function, in particular, is thought to have a great influence on the resumption of preburn activities. The purpose of this investigation was to compare factors associated with civilian RTW with combat injured military personnel. A review of the literature was performed to assimilate the many factors reported as involved with RTW or duty. Additionally, a focus on the influence of hand burns is included. Thirty-four different parameters influencing RTW have been reported inconsistently in the literature. In a military population of combat burns, TBSA burn, length of hospitalization and intensive care and inhalation injury were found as the most significant factors in determining return to duty status. In previous RTW investigations of civilian populations, there exists a scatter of factors reported to influence patient disposition with a mixture of conflicting results. In neither military nor civilian populations was the presence of a hand burn found as a dominant factor. Variety in patient information collected and statistical approaches used to analyze this information were found to influence the results and deter comparisons between patient populations. There is a need for a consensus data set and corresponding statistical approach used to evaluate RTW and duty outcomes after burn injury.