Laura smiling at cameraAfter experiencing cancer as a teen and needing her leg amputated, 15-year-old Laura was unsure about how she'd succeed returning to school and pursuing her goals. Through a combination of her family, a mentor, alternative learning school, and supports from Social Security's Ticket to Work program, Laura found the resources and services she needed to succeed.

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Access to Employment Support Services for Social Security Disability Beneficiaries Who Want to Work
 
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Laura's Success Story

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Guiding the Way Forward

Published in 2018

Laura smiling at cameraWith her daughter perched on one hip and a laundry basket on the other, Laura surveyed the path of debris her 5-year-old son had left on the kitchen floor. Stepping over scattered Cheerios and toys, Laura passed her daughter to her husband and hurried to get ready for work. As a wife, a mother, and a clinician devoted to helping other people with limb loss regain mobility, Laura is content. She has found purpose and a loving family that depends on her and the ability to do work that she loves allows her to provide for her family. It's a set of circumstances that felt out of reach in 2000.

As a teenager, Laura experienced an aggressive form of cancer that led to having her leg amputated before high school. Cancer had taken a toll on both her physical and emotional well-being. But, over time, support from family and caring professionals, combined with her own resilience, helped her forge a path to recovery.

Because of her disability, Laura received Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which helped her family face the mounting bills. But because she qualified for SSI, Laura also learned that she was eligible for Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program that, paired with Social Security Work Incentives, proved to be important tools for Laura along her path to a better future.

Through the Ticket program, she received employment-related supports that helped her attain career success. The free and voluntary program is available to adults who receive Social Security disability benefits and are age 18 through 64. Authorized service providers like State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies and Employment Networks (EN) help people prepare for and find employment. ENs also offer services that can help people maintain employment or advance in their careers. Social Security Work Incentives provide additional supports that help people with disabilities transition to the workforce.

The Ticket she needed

Returning to school after experiencing cancer and having her leg amputated, Laura struggled to acclimate to a setting without accommodations. Social, emotional and academic pressures challenged her, and without the support she needed, she struggled. In 2001, Laura moved to a learning center that allowed her to get back on track, finish high school and recover her self-esteem.

Laura's path to success included help from her Ticket to Work service provider and other supportive members of her community. To learn more about Laura's experience and discover more details about the Work Incentives that she used as she pursued financial independence, download the PDF and check out her full story.

At the same time, a new prosthetist entered the practice where Laura went for periodic prosthetic limb adjustments. Angela, her new prosthetist and someone who also has had a limb amputated, served as an important role model at a time when Laura needed positive influences. Angela helped her navigate obstacles, connect with supportive communities, and learn to feel comfortable in her own skin. Later, recognizing how important Angela's support was, Laura found herself motivated to pursue a career as a Certified Orthotist and Prosthetist (COP).

Laura earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Iowa but recognized that she would need additional support to reach her goal. She sought help from Iowa’s State VR agency, where she learned about the Ticket program and resources that could help her pay for her certification. Like many people preparing for the workforce, Laura also wanted to know how employment would affect her Social Security and healthcare (Medicaid/Medicare) benefits. Her VR counselor explained that Social Security Work Incentives make it easier for adults with disabilities to work while receiving Medicaid and/or Medicare and, in some cases, cash payments from Social Security. The VR counselor connected her with Iowa Works, an EN with a Benefits Counselor on staff.

With the help of her Benefits Counselor, Laura also learned how 2 specific Work Incentives for which she qualified could help her reach her goals—the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), and a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The SEIE allows certain SSI recipients who are regularly attending school to test their ability to work without having their SSI cash payments reduced.  

A PASS is a written plan of action that must be approved by Social Security that makes it easier to save money toward a specific vocational goal without affecting eligibility for SSI. Working with her Benefits Counselor and a Social Security PASS specialist, Laura was able to set aside her earnings in a separate PASS account to pay for tuition, books, exam fees, disability-related modifications to her car and moving expenses to Florida, where her training program was located. She continued to receive her SSI cash payment to help pay for basic living needs.

Laura went on to reach 2 milestones that were important to her. By 2012, she was a newlywed with an Orthotist and Prosthetist certification from St. Petersburg College. In 2015, she and her husband moved back to Iowa to be near family, and Laura found work at the Hanger Clinic, where she has been helping people with limb loss see their potential ever since.

Guidance and gratitude

Laura says she feels privileged to offer guidance to people who wear prosthetic limbs as they navigate physical and emotional obstacles.

"It's amazing to be able to give someone a tool that they can use ... to get their lives back."

"I'd be lying if I said work wasn't demanding," she reflects. "But when someone takes those first steps with a brand-new limb and I get to be part of that... it's pretty neat. It's amazing to be able to give someone a tool that they can use ... to get their lives back."

Laura credits the supports she received through the Ticket program with helping her reach her career goal and financial independence. Reaching her career goal allowed her to earn more money and plan for her family’s future. Reflecting on the distance she has travelled from a vulnerable high school freshman, Laura is satisfied with her destination:

"At 15, I worried that life as I had known it was over. I wondered if I would ever recover strength, find a purpose, find love. If I could go back and tell that frightened girl that she would be okay, that she would find what she needed, I would. It feels incredible to have arrived at this place in my life," Laura reflects. "Ticket to Work helped me get here. It's an amazing program where I found people who said, 'You can do this. We will find a way together...' and we did!"

Ticket to Work and Work Incentives helped Laura find her path to a better future. Find yours! To learn more, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 866-968-7842; 866-833-2967 (TTY), or visit choosework.ssa.gov.

Ticket to Work and Work Incentives helped Laura find her path to a better future. Find yours! To learn more, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 866-968-7842; 866-833-2967 (TTY), or visit choosework.ssa.gov.