Angel smiling at cameraAfter being issued a medical retirement from the U.S. Air Force, Angel was unsure of his options for employment as he focused on recovering his health from injuries and cancer. A job offer from a federal contractor and support and services from the Ticket to Work program gave him the confidence he needed to return to work.

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Angel's Success Story

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Wingman: Angel's Story

Published in 2019

"In the Air Force, your wingman is by your side as you face uncertainty... In a way, the Ticket program brings the wingman concept into the civilian workforce. They are by my side, and I'm grateful for that as I look ahead."

Angel smiling at cameraAfter 2 tours of duty with the U.S. Air Force, Angel felt the effects of neck and back injuries he sustained during his military service. In the mornings, Angel lay in bed, preparing himself to begin another day in painful slow motion.

"I was in constant pain," Angel says. "I was just 30 and could no longer move or work as I had once done. I fell into a deep depression."

The Air Force issued a medical retirement for Angel, and he moved back to Puerto Rico to be with his growing family. Through the Veterans Administration (VA), Angel received a monthly compensation check, but because he was a Wounded Warrior, he was also eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which he began receiving at the end of 2012.

These benefits allowed Angel to focus on recovering his health, and he called on the strength and focus that he had cultivated during his military service to face the challenges ahead. From 2012 to 2016, Angel consulted medical specialists and underwent several surgeries to address musculoskeletal injuries and arthritis. Then he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

"I thought that was the end," Angel recalls. "I was so overwhelmed by the weight of disability and illness."

But Angel kept fighting and was fortunate to receive quality treatment and experience recovery. With consistent rehabilitation and support from his family, Angel was feeling better by 2017 and started considering his future, including work.

That's when Angel learned about 2 things that would help him on his path to employment.

He learned that a friend's employer, a Virginia-based federal contractor, was looking to hire informational technology (IT) professionals. This matched Angel's experience and he inquired about a position.

As a federal contractor, the employer takes affirmative action under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to promote the hiring and retention of qualified people with disabilities. Angel's experience made him a good fit for the job, and his willingness to identify as an individual with a disability was an asset during the hiring process.

Having been offered a job at the federal contractor, supporting the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Angel had questions about what full-time employment would mean for his benefits. So when he learned about Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program, he called the Ticket to Work Help Line to find the answers he needed.

"The job has helped me build confidence, maintain good mental health, and regain a sense of accomplishment… all vital for the next chapter in our lives."

The Ticket program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI/SSI) and want to work. Through this free and voluntary program, service providers, known as Employment Networks (EN) and State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, offer a range of support services to help people prepare for, find, or maintain employment.

Once he connected with an EN called The Choice Group, Angel received free Benefits Counseling. His Benefits Counselor told him about Social Security Work Incentives that help adults with disabilities explore and transition to work as they continue to receive Medicare or Medicaid and, in some cases, cash payments.

Armed with the knowledge about Work Incentives and supports and services from his EN, Angel had the confidence he needed to transition to the workplace and request reasonable accommodations to help him succeed.

Angel is happy with his job supporting the DOD, where he's working with military peers and uses the problem-solving skills, work ethic, and teamwork skills he learned in the Air Force.

"Being back at work has had a positive impact in so many areas of my life," Angel reflects. "I've been able to [show] my children the rewards that can go with perseverance and resilience. The job has helped me build confidence, maintain good mental health, and regain a sense of accomplishment… all vital for the next chapter in our lives."

Magnifying glass icon Ticket to Work and Work Incentives helped Angel find his path to a better future. Find yours.

To learn more, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY), or visit choosework.ssa.gov.

Magnifying glass icon Ticket to Work and Work Incentives helped Angel find his path to a better future. Find yours.

To learn more, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY), or visit choosework.ssa.gov.