How Wonderful and Horrible Ticket to Work Can Be

Artwork: Robin Mead

If you are well enough to try going back to work, you have the option to either find a job on your own or join a Ticket to Work program that can give you extra help with transitioning back to work.

Extra help sounds great right? Not so fast. We have heard from many readers who tried Ticket to Work and wound up unhappy in the end.

Deciding whether to join Ticket to Work is a personal choice. There is no wrong or right answer. Below are some of the situations our readers encountered that may be helpful to understand in making the choice.

Good and Bad

The Ticket to Work program is designed to help people get off disability and go back to work. If your condition has recovered, and you are ready to transition off benefits, then your goal is the same as their goal.

On the other hand, if you are still disabled and need to work part time and stay on disability, it’s a good idea to learn more about Ticket to Work before deciding your next step.

Common Ticket to Work Myths

“If I want to work, I have to use Ticket To Work”

Not true. You do not need Ticket to Work! You can just go get a job on your own! Social Security has many rules that allow people on disability to work part time: How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

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

Also not true. Ticket to Work programs are not designed to help you work and be on disability. They are designed to get you back to work and off disability.

“This program will protect me from medical reviews.”

True for some people. While you are in the Ticket to Work program you are protected from medical reviews. But there is a catch:

To be in Ticket to Work, you have to work or be in school a certain amount. Every year, the amount goes up. When someone can’t keep up with the requirements, they get kicked out and… wham!… they may get hit with a medical review soon after.

“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 her job. She may also be a nice person who wants what is best for you. If she is, that’s great.

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. The only way for them to get the full amount is for you to work so much that your disability check stops.

The Social Security policy on reimbursements explains it this way: “The services must result in the individual’s return to work for at least nine continuous months at a substantial earnings level, which is referred to as substantial gainful activity.” Let’s make sure that was clear: If you stop getting disability, they get more money.

“My caseworker in this program is my friend”

She may be your friend, but she is also writing down things about you in her files. Social Security may review these files during your medical reviews.

This causes problems for some people. Many people want to “put their best foot forward” when they try to go back to work. They want to say good things about themselves. They want to think positive thoughts. They want to prove what they can do. They want to get a good job. They want someone to hire them.

They aren’t focusing on being honest about every thing that is wrong with them and all the problems they have with working and all their limitations. They leave that part out.

This means the files from your Ticket to Work program may not wind up being an accurate description of your actual work ability. This can cause a problem.

“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 you will have no problems during disability medical reviews. During reviews Social Security will check to see if your work indicates that your condition has improved.

“I’m earning under SGA so I won’t have any problems”

Sometimes true. Learn more about: How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

Petunia’s Story

“I was in Ticket to Work for a year. Then I got pregnant and 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.

“Two months later, I got a disability review. I thought it was safe to try working because people in Ticket to Work didn’t get reviewed. I was totally unprepared. Then I got a letter saying Social Security decided I wasn’t disabled anymore, and I was losing my disability check.

“I appealed and filed a form so that I would keep getting my check during the appeal. All my income stopped. I kept calling and saying “Why did my check stop? I sent the form for it to continue?” 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 sent in more forms and records to show 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 finally 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.”


💮 If you want help figuring out your benefits, you can try contacting a Centers for Independent Living in your area and ask if they can connect you with someone who can advise you on working and benefits.

💮 You can also get benefits counseling through Work Incentives Planning Assistance programs. Note: Many work incentive programs are also Ticket to Work programs.

💮 Disability Benefits 101 – Great information on working while receiving disability benefits in Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio

What Do You Think? 

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. 

Updated May 2019. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

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

  1. I am super scared to call Ticket to Work.

    I started working part-time 3 months ago.

    How much can I make and maintain my SSDI? Is it $900/ month or $1300/month?

    When do the 9 TWP months technically start? Anyday after I qualified as disabled? Anyday after I qualified for SSDI benefits? Or Anyday after I actually started receiving checks?

    I want to work, but I can not do anything near full-time. It triggers my disease, and not working is bad for my mental health! Without SSDI I can not afford to live as an independent adult.



  2. I worked January February and March 2020 and was told by social security that I was over the limit of 1,260. For those 3 months. I was only over in January. I sent them my pay stubs, a reconsideration form and a waiver request because they wanted me to pay back almost $5,000 for those 3 months. Even though four agents told me the pay stubs were in the system the agent who reviewed my waiver said my waiver was denied because my pay stubs were not in the system. Bottom line I’m expected to pay almost $5,000 back to social security even though I did not receive overpayment for the two months they said I did. And they refuse to look at my pay stubs and add up the amounts. I have a mortgage and I am just making it with my current disability benefit. I’m going to end up on the street because of this ticket to work “program”. Whoever reads this please BEWARE of what you get yourself into.


  3. The program makes no sense for me — I’m 55, just starting to receive SSDI after years of a grueling process in proving conclusively that I cannot (emphasis CANNOT) work any longer, and now Social Security Administration turns right around and suggests attempting to work …. say what???? C’mon now …


  4. Hi,
    I am currently working part time. I’d like to attempt ticket to work, but I’m also appealing being denied after a continuing disability review went completely wrong (long story). My doctor is helping me with the appeal. I have DDD, sciatica, osteoarthritis, migraine and potential for seizures from a car accident. If I try ticket to work right now, will they stop my appeal/review? I eventually would like to work full time, but would like to be able to ease into it while continuing to receive my medicare, which they were going to completely stop. I see my doctor once a month and have so many medications, it would be detrimental to me financially. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


  5. It took me almost 6 years before my DVR helped with any job training (finally I did get help with going to a school- and yes, I did put on my best, got As, graduated with honors because I wanted to show I can do something and could of done it they helped when I first walked in). Interesting reading all this because at the time I wasn’t receiving any SSI disability benefits (no insurance and no work experience- but I wanted to work). my dad had just passed away and the house I lived in was going into foreclosure and I wanted to try working to keep everything. I knew how hard it was to get approved for disability and thought it wouldn’t be worth it for what you get on SSI and it made sense to get training and work- I never wanted to go on disability but they convinced me it was the best option for me and my age (at the time I was only 28). So during those years of waiting to get SSI approved, then it took a few years to get approved for DAC benefits ( thanks to a fair hearing with a good lawyer and judge). I became even more depressed and isolated. I ended up losing the family house and all my personal belongings, had to go on welfare to get a stay in a motel and eventually on a rental assistance which was a struggle when still on SSI -$760 a month but my rent a little over $500 and only $15 in food stamps.

    I wonder now if they just didn’t help me then because without SS benefits would they have been paid to just prevent someone from going on disability? They sent me to their doctor that says I wasn’t well enough to work- but that is their doctor who gets paid by them and also tested me during a stressful time from losing my dad, a foreclosure (which a job might of helped with) and taking care of my mom. Later when I was seeing my own Dr. I asked if she felt I was ready to work at all and she said “if I feel ready”.

    People say “well they did eventually help you” but by the time they did I got even more depressed and all the anxiety over financial hardships that I’m still recovering from…I guess they aren’t “required” to help people, maybe depends on their funding and now I know they get paid getting people off disability. It’s hard to say/prove if they helped me 6-7 years ago if I would of succeeded but I still think i would of but they can say since I’ve been seeing a doctor and on so many medications that now I’m better and that’s why I did well with the job training. I never started working though since I am still getting situated with my housing and starting over so they got no benefit for “getting me off the same disability they told me to go on in the first place”


  6. I called about this and the person I spoke to told me I could make $880.00 a month and keep ALL my benefits. She said as long as I don’t go over that, I’m good. I don’t believe her though. I live in Ohio, would you know about that?


  7. I want to try and work again, and try this, yet i am so scared i’ll fail due to my disability. I know there are options like finding a job yet with very few skills, a disability that will require work accommodations, and have not worked in many years due to the disability i am not sure if its worth trying. When someone does ticket to work, if they feel sick and cant do their job that day, or need time off for medical appointments how badly is frowned upon? How do most agencies work? Has anyone started off temporary or even part time?


  8. 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.


  9. 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

    Liked by 1 person

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