Recovery Options: A PASS Plan

  • I'll talk in this SharePost about a government program that can aid in helping you succeed at a job.  Years ago here I wrote a SharePost about this kind of plan that was offered in Tennessee.  It's now a federal option for everyone living in the United States who collects SSI.


    The Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) is an SSI provision that is an option for individuals with disabilities who want to explore work.  PASS allows you to set aside money and/or things you own to pay for the items and services required to achieve a specific work goal.


    The money you set aside in a PASS fund can help you pay for school expenses, equipment and tools, transportation and other items, like a vehicle, wheelchair or computer.

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    The items you buy must be needed to achieve a work goal.  A VR or P&A as discussed earlier can help you set up a PASS plan, as well as Employment Networks in the Ticket to Work program and the local Social Security office.


    You can get a PASS form (SSA-545-BK) from your local SSA office or SSA work site and then bring it or mail it to the Social Security Office.  The SSA usually approves plans prepared by the VR and if your goal is self-employment, you must also submit a business plan.  A PASS expert at SSA works with you to review the plan and if your PASS is not approved, you can appeal the decision.


    Your PASS must be in writing and signed by you and if, applicable, the representative payee.  It must state a work goal that is specific, like plumber or computer repair technician, can be a VR assessment, and you must have a reasonable chance of achieving the goal taking into consideration your strengths and abilities.  "Getting a degree" or "buying a car" are not acceptable goals.


    The PASS is required to have a reasonable time frame with projected beginning and ending dates, milestones indicating interval steps, and last step must demonstrate how the job will be obtained.  Your plan also needs to have expenses that are necessary to achieve the work goal, not everyday living expenses.  These expenses must be reasonably priced and in the case of a car or other vehicle can be paid through down payment and installment payments. 


    You are responsible for paying your PASS expenses.  For more details, log on to  Here you can see a video of PASS success stories.


    Like I said, these services have as their goal helping you make the transition into working at and keeping a job when you have a mental health diagnosis and collect a government disability check.  Now more than ever I would encourage you to considering getting some kind of job.  I would also recommend you risk finding a full-time job if you are able and opt not to receive a government disability check at all.


    In New York State, you can work at a job if you have a mental health diagnosis and continue to collect your Medicaid through the Medicaid Buy-In.  Other states might also have this option so check with your local Medicaid office.  You might have an earning cap to be able to use this option though so check what the earned income limit is to make sure you're eligible.


    The SSA website has information about how you can work and still collect government benefits.  Those of you who collect SSD are offered a nine-month Trial Work Period (TWP) where you can collect your regular benefits while you are employed for the first nine months.  After the trial work period, you do not collect government benefits and will have to be issued an expedited return to benefits if you can no longer work at the job because your mental health has changed. 


    For those of you who collect SSI, your benefits will be reduced by one dollar for every dollar you earn.


    If you want to work at any kind of job and still collect your benefits, you need to be certain you do not go over the monthly earned income limit.  You can and will owe money back to the government if they overpay you while you are working.

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    At my first internship job and through the first month of my first paid job I failed to tell the government that I was working so I incurred an overpayment of nearly $2,000 that I had to pay back in monthly installments.


    You might be worried that your job won't work out and you'll need to go back to collecting SSD or SSI.  This might be the reason you don't want to tell SSA you found a job right away.  If you calculate how much you might have to pay back and it's a reasonable amount, this could be a handy interest-free loan.


    Yet as soon as possible you will have to tell SSA you're employed at a job that pays money.  It isn't to your advantage to run up a huge overpayment by continuing to collect your benefits.  The option of getting an expedited return to benefits (EXR) is now possible whereas years ago it might have been harder to claim this.


    Log on to the Social Security Administration website to find out about the ins and outs of collecting a government check while you work or about returning to your benefits after your job doesn't work out.


    I know plenty of people who still want to collect their SSD or SSI so that they can keep their government health benefits like Medicaid.


    We cannot judge others for making this choice and we cannot question whether or not they are actually disabled.


    We can debate the failure of our elected officials to place on the table a true universal or public government health insurance plan available for all Americans.


    Since this hasn't happened and both sides of the aisle in Washington seem only interested in protecting their special interests and agendas, we need to take advantage of the options that we do have available as people diagnosed with mental health conditions.


    If you want to work, you deserve to try.  And if you try and fail, there's no shame in that.  You can try again at a later time.  You have your whole life ahead of you, even if you're older.


    I know a guy with a diagnosis who first started working at paid employment when he was 55.  He told me it was the best thing that happened to him.  He felt better because he was contributing his talents to help other people recover.


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    You have numerous options for the kinds of work you can do.  You're not limited to working as a peer advocate making minimum wage.


    I originally stated I would devote three SharePosts to this topic and instead I've covered it in two.  So I will provide a link here to Finding The Work You Love: a SharePost I wrote back in 2008.  Its premise is that you might be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole at your job unless you first investigate what kinds of careers might match your talents and abilities.


    It's the classic quote from the Greeks that a therapist kept telling me: "Know Yourself."  You first have to be in tune with your personality and what makes you tick or tock before you can attempt to find the job or jobs you love.


    To quote Khalil Gibran the famous poet: "Work is love made visible."


    Whether you do volunteer work or are involved in paid employment, I respect and admire your dedication to using your talents for the greater good.  In return, you undoubtedly get a great degree of satisfaction.


    Work IS love made visible.  And all kinds of work, regardless of whether it is formally recognized, counts as love.  So I'll end here by suggesting that embarking on recovery is also work.

Published On: December 07, 2012