Ticket to Work

I learned about the Ticket to Work program from my friend,Melissa. The Ticket to Work program, through the Social Security Administration, has numerous benefits for individuals with disabilities trying to get back into the workforce. Individuals on SSDI and SSI may qualify for Ticket to Work.


I met Melissa in 2010 when a mutual friend asked if I had an extra wheelchair. Melissa couldn’t get one through insurance because she didn’t have a diagnosis at the time.

While we pieced a chair together from donated frames, wheels and parts, I learned that Melissa had been walking with little sensation and some weakness from her chest down since March 2003 and had been diagnosed at the time with transverse myelitis. After several years, Melissa began a new job at a residential facility for abused and neglected youth while attending a local college part-time. In 2008, she had flare up of her condition and was paralyzed from the waist down this time.

Even after she had recovered enough function to walk, her doctor didn’t release her to go back to her job since she couldn’t physically restrain the residents. Melissa didn’t have the required degree for other available positions, so she was let go. When she was released to go back to work, she jumped at the opportunity to return to her position, only to have another flare up ten months later and this time didn’t recover the use of her legs. She lost her job. Again.

“I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I wasn’t qualified for many jobs that didn’t require physical labor, so I decided to apply for Social Security Disability with the goal to return to school.”

With a degree, she would become employable.

The SSDI application process took a while because a doctor didn’t think she had transverse myelitis, but couldn’t give another cause for the recurring paralysis. In 2011, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She applied for Social Security Disability (SSDI). Fortunately, the process only took three months.

Melissa had investigated vocational rehabilitation since she knew she needed a college degree to stay in the field she enjoyed. In 2011, she began her undergraduate degree at Asbury University with vocational rehabilitation paying part of her tuition. In 2015, Melissa graduated  with her undergraduate degree.

Three weeks later, she began her master’s degree in social work. I’m proud to say Melissa completed her master’s in social work in May 2017.

Melissa’s goal was always to get back into the workforce, but after multiple hospitalizations throughout college and grad school, she had some concerns.

“My biggest fear about getting a job was having a gap in health insurance between graduating and getting a job. And what will happen if I have another flare up after I go back to work?” Melissa said.

Thankfully, the transition to work has gone very smoothly with the help of the Ticket to Work program through the Social Security Administration.

After a lot of research, Melissa spoke with the Area Work Incentives Coordinator (AWIC) for the Social Security Administration. She learned that with the Ticket to Work program, people with disabilities have a trial period in which they can work without losing their SSDI payments or Medicare. These nine Trial Work Periods (TWP) include any month in which you make more than $850 (as of 2018). Trial Work Periods can be non-consecutive within a five year period.1

After the nine trial months, there is a grace period of three months where you can continue to receive SSDI payments. After one year, SSDI benefits stop with Substantial Gainful Activity (making $1180 per month or more, as of 2018). The huge bonus to Ticket to Work is that Medicare coverage continues for 7 years and 9 months (93 months).

Another benefit to Ticket to Work is Expedited Reinstatement (EXR).

“If I have a flare up and can’t work due to my disability within the next 5 years, I’ll be reinstated on SSDI without having to go through the entire application process again.”

It’s a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the Ticket to Work program and how it can successfully bridge the gap to gainful employment. To find out more about Ticket to Work, call the Social Security Administration at 1-866-YOURTICKET or visit www.choosework.ssa.gov.


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1.ORDP.OPDR. Social Security Online -The Red Book -SSDI Only Employment Supports. Online -The Red Book -SSDI Only Employment Supports. https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/eng/ssdi-only-employment-supports.htm#a0=0. Accessed January 11, 2018.