National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Securing Your Ticket to Independence:

How the SSA Can Help You Find Employment

By Brendan McLean, Communications Coordinator

Started in 1999 as a part of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, the Ticket to Work (TTW) Program has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals living with disabilities secure employment and gain financial independence and greater self sufficiency.

TTW is a voluntary program that assists more than 12 million people in locating jobs, vocational rehabilitation and other forms of support. The program is open to all individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The TTW program helps connect recipients of the tickets with service providers known as an Employment Network (EN). An EN is an agency or organization of a state, or a private organization that forms a partnership with the Social Security Administration to provide the actual employment services. ENs can choose which services they wish to provide and to whom. In the same way, beneficiaries can contact any EN to decide which fits them best.

Once an individual and an EN decide to work together, a plan will be put in place that works right for the new employee. The plan outlines personal goals in the workplace, which may include salary. The plan also will state exactly what services the employment network will provide.

Upon enrollment in TTW, individuals receiving disability benefits will not automatically lose their benefits. A trial work period allows one to feel out his or her ability to work for nine months. During this trial period, one can still receive full SSDI benefits regardless of how high his or her income might be. By providing this, an individual need not worry about the possibility of not immediately flourishing at a newfound job.

As one transitions into work, he or she can still access other SSA programs and work incentives. And if benefits are suspended, one can easily return to receiving benefits if he or she discontinues working.

However, even with programs and incentives encouraging individuals to get a ticket, trying to decide how to proceed when attempting to move away from receiving benefits can be quite stressful. To help provide support in this process, the SSA has established the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Program. WIPA’s main goal is to assist SSA’s beneficiaries with disabilities to make informed choices about their work.

For National Mental Health Awareness Month, WIPA is presenting a 90-minute national Work Incentives Seminar Event (WISE) webinar tailored to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries who live with mental illness. The webinar, entitled "Ticket to Work for Beneficiaries with a Mental Illness - Support on Your Journey to Employment," will provide Work Incentives and TTW program information and resources to help beneficiaries living with mental illness make informed decisions.

The webinar will be held today, May 25, 2011, at 3 p.m. EST. Register online. For a list of other future WISE seminars, please click here.