How Wonderful and Horrible Ticket to Work Can Be

Artwork: Robin Mead

I was in Ticket to Work for six months. Then I had medical complications and had to take a leave from work. I got kicked out of the Ticket to Work program because I wasn’t working anymore.

A few months later, I got a disability review and I got denied. I appealed and filed a form so that I would keep getting my check during the appeal, but the local office lost my form.

All my income stopped. I kept calling and saying “Why did my check stop?” and they said “I don’t know.” I had no way to pay rent. My 84-year-old grandmother to take me in. I couldn’t afford to buy anything, not even tampons.

I showed Social Security that I was not working anymore and I was still disabled. After four months, I finally got approved again. Then they sent my case to quality review and it took another month.

I wrote to my congressperson and they helped me get my check released. In the end, I got backpay and got my disability check back. Ticket to Work was not what I thought it would be. – PT

If you are feeling well enough to try going back to work, you have the option to join Ticket to Work and/or to receive assistance from a State Vocational Rehab programs to help you transition back to work. You also have the option to use various work incentives that can help you save more money, earn more money, and keep your disability benefits and insurance while working. Sounds great right?

Not so fast.

I have met several who have tried these programs and so far, they have all ended badly. I’m not saying they don’t work well for anyone. I just haven’t met them.

My impression is that if you are really feeling recovered and ready to go back to work and transition off disability… these programs can be GREAT. They can offer you a lot of support, assistance, training and they can help you use special rules to keep your disability check and keep your health insurance while you transition back to work.

If you are not really ready or not sure, proceed with caution. You can get yourself in a whole world of trouble here. Here are some common myths:

“This program is here to help me work part time and stay on disability”

No, no, no. These programs are NOT designed to help you work and be on disability. They are designed to get you off disability.

“This program will protect me from medical reviews.”

Sort of true. If you can manage to get into a Ticket to Work program, and stay in it, you can be protected from medical reviews. But they are damn slippery. Many people cannot keep up with the work goals, get kicked out of the program, and wind up unprotected and then having trouble with their disability review.

“My caseworker in this program is my friend”

They may be your friends, but they are also creating files on you, and Social Security may review these files during your medical reviews. Even if your caseworker likes you and means well and is trying to help you, they might still wind up writing something that makes Social Security think you have recovered or your condition has improved.

“I am following all the rules, so everything will be OK.”

Social Security has many different work incentives, such as PASS, Trial Work Periods, and Impairment Related Work Expenses. Work incentives can certainly help you a lot. But just because you are following all the rules doesn’t mean Social Security is just fine with you working. Your work can still cause problems during your next review.

“I’m earning under $1,170 per month so I won’t have any problems”

Sometimes true. Some people work part time and keep up excellent medical records proving they are still disabled and have no problems passing reviews. Other people work part time and have difficulty passing their reviews because their medical records are not strong enough and Social Security views the work as a sign that their condition has improved.

“My caseworker wants what is best for me. That’s her job”

The goal of these programs is to get you off disability. That is what they are paid to do.

If you go back to work and work enough, Social Security will give your State Vocational Rehab program $15,000. They will give your Ticket to Work program $24,000. That’s right. You work… they get paid!

In my opinion, work incentive programs are probably really wonderful and really helpful for the right people under the right circumstances. If you are recovered and ready to go off disability benefits, they may be a great help and support for you. However, if you are not yet well enough to stop disability, I would suggest to proceed with care.

Here’s where you can learn more about How to Keep Up Good Medical Records While On Disability and How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

4 thoughts on “How Wonderful and Horrible Ticket to Work Can Be”

  1. I’m on this slippery slope right now. While I *might* be able to work full time where I’m working part time right now the work conditions are worsening my conditions. No one in my field o choice will hire me due to ableism.

    Just a suggestion but you might want to add one more thing. Yes agencies get paid AFTER you get hired and are on the job at least 90 days. I got dropped like a hot potato. No follow up, nothing. Nada, zip. Some tend to give really bad advice. Like suggesting a family member cosigns a car loan. Worst idea ever. The worst part is the person who made the suggestion has ab MBA. smh


  2. I love the way you write 🙂
    I had a weird experience with vocational rehab, I was hurt at work and L&I basically forced me to work with a voc. rehab company, under threat of being called “non-cooperating” and losing my wage replacement checks. They gave me a deadline I had to contact the rehabbers by and I followed thru and scheduled a meeting. They told me they wanted to be my ally and were there to help! Buy I had a symptom flare on that day and called to reschedule. The rehab worker was loud and pushy and tried to pressure me into meeting right away. I told him firmly I couldn’t talk or meet then but would call when feeling better. Sent an email to his office asking to reschedule, called him and left messages the next day and again later that week. Never heard anything back about this super important meeting I just had to have. Two weeks later I get a letter saying L&I is denying payments based on non-cooperation. So, no, vocational rehab is not your friend, either. The best I can guess is they didn’t like me telling them I couldn’t talk right then, and reported me not cooperating, even though I was calling and everything.


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