Facilitating Informed Choice
Under regulations [34 CFR 361.56] governing State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, one of the requirements for closing the record of services of a State VR agency consumer who achieved an employment outcome is to inform the consumer of the availability of post-employment services. Based on this regulatory provision, counselors at State VR agencies should, at a minimum, routinely provide information on the Ticket program and a beneficiary's options for using the Ticket after State VR agency case closure.
To make an informed choice, a beneficiary needs to know that his or her Ticket still has value after State VR agency services are completed and the State VR agency case is closed. Many beneficiaries will need assistance in finding an Employment Network (EN) that can address his or her post-employment support needs. Beneficiaries can access information on ENs serving the areas in a number of ways.
EN Directory: A directory of approved ENs can be access by visiting http://www.choosework.net. Some State VR agency counselors will simply refer beneficiaries to this site to obtain a list of approved ENs in the area. The EN Directory includes information on the services and supports the EN provides under the Ticket program and any qualifying factors. Other State VR agencies provide more information or direction to assist beneficiaries in making informed choices in selecting an EN, as described below.
Some State VR agency counselors provide additional guidance to help beneficiaries choose among different ENs. Some provide a list that has been narrowed down to only those offering the type of post-employment services and supports identified in the post-closure discussion. Some provide more detailed information about ENs serving the area and some will make a formal referral to a specific EN. In some cases, beneficiaries are referred to State VR agency vendors that are approved ENs and that have been serving the beneficiary under contract while the State VR agency case was open. Some State VR agencies have formal referral mechanisms that are clearly spelled out in written interagency agreements, while others will make a referral to a specific EN based on the informed consent of the beneficiary.
Some State VR agencies have created tools that are used in discussing post-employment options under the Ticket program. One such tool, Things to Consider When Choosing an Employment Network (located in the Resource Documents section of the Information Center) simply asks a series of questions to help a beneficiary identify the services and supports he or she is likely to need after job placement, to think about his or her preferred methods for receiving services, and to explore an approved EN in the area. Some State VR agencies have also developed forms to make formal referrals to an EN after discussing the beneficiary's options for securing post-employment services.
In almost every state, regardless of the approach to informing or referring beneficiaries to an EN, information on the EN Directory is provided as an option for exploring the ENs serving a state or geographic area.
The Ticket Program
In order to best facilitate informed choice, the State VR agency counselor must be knowledgeable about the Ticket to Work program. Information about the program may be found on the following sites:
- SSA Work Site: http://www.SSA.gov/work
- Choose Work website: http://www.choosework.net/
- Your Ticket to Work website: https://yourtickettowork.com
Additionally, as an aspect of informed choice, the State VR agency counselor will need to inform Ticket Holders about what will happen with the Ticket once a State VR agency case is opened.
When serving a beneficiary under Cost Reimbursement (CR), the State VR agency counselor should explain that the beneficiary's Ticket:
- Is not assignable to another EN while the State VR agency case is open;
- Still has value after State VR agency case closure and can be assigned to an EN other than the State VR agency for ongoing support services, job retention services, and other types of services and supports to assist him or her in maintaining employment;
- Will be placed in the "In-Use SVR" status while the State VR agency case is open, extending the protection against medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) to the beneficiary; and
- Must be assigned to another EN within 90 days of case closure to provide continued protection against medical CDRs.
If the State VR agency chooses to serve a beneficiary as an EN, the beneficiary should be informed that his/her Ticket:
- Is being assigned to the State VR agency;
- Is not assignable to another EN while the VR case is open;
- Will be placed in the "assigned" status that carries with it the protection against medical CDRs while the State VR agency case is open; and
- Can either continue to be assigned to the State VR agency after the State VR agency case is closed or can be un-assigned and re-assigned to another EN within 90 days of case closure to provide continued protection against medical CDRs.
For both CR cases and Ticket cases, the State VR agency counselor needs to explain that the continuation of the medical CDR protection will continue as long as the State VR agency case is open and the beneficiary is making "timely progress" (as defined by Social Security) towards his or her employment goals. The counselor should explain that the Ticket Holder will be contacted once every 12 months to explore how well he or she is progressing towards the defined employment goal. Information on the criteria used to measure "timely progress" in meeting employment goals should be given to every beneficiary.
When the case is being closed, it is extremely important to talk to the beneficiary about the Ticket program. If a beneficiary is served under CR, the VR Counselor may want to have this conversation a month or two before case closure to identify any services that will likely be needed to assist the beneficiary to maintain and advance in employment.
In addition to understanding the basics of the Ticket program, State VR agency counselors also need a basic understanding of Social Security disability benefits and the fact that work and earnings can impact a beneficiary's continued access to disability benefits. Social Security has a number of Work Incentive programs that beneficiaries can use to reduce their "countable" income and be able to temporarily keep their cash disability benefits while they explore work. Since these programs are often viewed as complex and confusing, beneficiaries should be encouraged to consult with benefits planners (if available) as they plan to enter the workforce. Social Security provides two free sources of information on Work Incentives.
- The Social Security "Red Book" provides a summary of the various employment supports that Social Security offers for individuals with disabilities under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. The "2012 Red Book" can be down loaded at www.socialsecurity.gov/redbook.
- General questions about the various Work Incentives programs that
Social Security Administration offers should be directed to the Beneficiary Call Center by calling 1-866-968-7842 (voice) or 1-866-833-2967 (TDD).