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SAMHSA News - March/April 2006, Volume 14, Number 2

Obtaining Benefits: Help for Case Managers

SOAR logo (left); cover of Stepping Stones to Recovery (right)

Individuals who are homeless and have mental illnesses often face overwhelming challenges in obtaining disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). A complex application system, confusion over eligibility criteria, and lack of a fixed address can all create seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

A new SAMHSA manual, Stepping Stones to Recovery: A Case Manager's Manual for Assisting Adults Who Are Homeless with Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Applications, assists case managers and other professionals in obtaining critical services for their clients. In addition, SAMHSA's Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) offers curriculum training to support use of the manual.

These disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs often make the difference for individuals who are homeless to take the first steps toward recovery and employability and a new life of independence.

"Case managers who better understand SSA's requirements and the need for appropriate documentation can facilitate the process, decreasing the time SSA takes to issue determinations and reducing the need for appeals," said Kathryn Power, M.Ed., Director of SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS).

Historically, only about 37 percent of all applicants, and a much lower percentage of homeless applicants, are successful the first time they try to get benefits. Although some applicants appeal, and most who do obtain benefits, the appeals process can take years—while applicants continue to go without benefits.

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Stepping Stones Manual

"The manual focuses on the disability eligibility criteria and the documentation process, so case managers can help applicants furnish the information that SSA needs to make a decision and determine proper benefit amounts," said Fran Randolph, Dr.P.H., Director of the CMHS Division of Service and Systems Improvement.

The manual also describes ways to ensure that people approved for disability benefits receive the correct amount and explains the appeals procedure if an individual believes an application has been denied in error.

"Although the manual is mainly for case managers working with individuals who are homeless," Dr. Randolph said, "the information will be useful for anyone who provides assistance with the disability benefit application process, as well as for applicants themselves."

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SOAR-ing to New Heights

"SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) is a new SAMHSA training initiative that provides a key step in increasing access to SSA disability benefits," according to SOAR Project Director Deborah Dennis. Using the Stepping Stones to Recovery curriculum, trainers are now equipping case managers across the Nation with the knowledge they need to put together successful and timely benefits applications.

The curriculum gives an overview of the SSI/SSDI programs, introducing terms used by SSA. It provides strategies for engaging applicants, including interview techniques. Special attention is paid in the curriculum to co-occurring mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

The SOAR project conducted strategic planning forums in 13 states and the city of Los Angeles between September 2005 and January 2006. Each forum included SSA and Disability Determination Services representatives as well as Health Care for the Homeless grantees and PATH grantees.

In December of last year, the SOAR project held a Train-the-Trainer program to increase the capacity of states to train frontline staff in preparing disability applications. Forty-seven trainers from 14 states participated.

"This curriculum and the strategic plans that were developed during the forums are designed to increase access to SSI/SSDI for homeless people to rates of 60 to 95 percent on initial application," added Michael Hutner, Ph.D., Director of the PATH program.

SAMHSA staff will track outcomes to ensure dissemination of promising practices.

For a print version of the manual, contact SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center at P.O. Box 42557, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647 or 1 (866) 889-2647 (TTY). The manual is also on SAMHSA's Web site at http://pathprogram.samhsa.gov/SOAR/
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Inside This Issue

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Part 1
Part 2

From the Administrator: Drug Courts Yield Benefits

SAMHSA Announces Funding Opportunities

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Changes Made to National Registry

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SAMHSA Wins "Emmy" Award

SAMHSA News Information

SAMHSA News - March/April 2006, Volume 14, Number 2