Austin Smith works at Catholic Charities in Flagstaff on a program called SOAR (SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access, and Recovery) helping clients apply for disability benefits. His clients are men and women experiencing or at risk of being homeless or have a mental illness, substance abuse disorder or other disability.
It's an intense job, but does so much good many of the vulnerable in Flagstaff. Austin, who as worked on the program for a year, tells how he works to build relationships with his clients.
When you meet a client for the first time, what do those interactions look like?
When meeting with a client for the first time, I complete a screening tool with them to determine whether they would be a good candidate for the SOAR program.
If a client qualifies for SOAR, we will start the paperwork that Social Security and Disability Determination Services (SSIrequire and collect medical records for their disability claim.
If the SOAR program does not seem to be a good fit for the client, I will encourage them to still apply for disability on their own and give them a Navigation Guide detailing the process of applying for disability. I will also extend support to the client and answer questions throughout the process.
What comes next for the client?
It can take anywhere from one to three weeks to receive the clients medical records. While I am waiting for medical records to be sent back to me, I work with the client to complete the necessary forms required for their disability claim.
Once records are received, I will write a Medical Summary Report that helps the disability examiner to truly see the client, since they will most likely never meet him or her. This report is a staple of the SOAR program, which is crucial in reducing the wait time of disability applications, as well as increasing approval rates.
After all the necessary social security forms and reports are completed, I will submit the client’s application to the local social security office, which will then be sent to disability determination services for a disability examiner and doctor to make a medical decision on their claim.
How long does the process take?
It is said the process will take three to five months for a decision to be made. With the help of SOAR, the average wait time for applications completed through SOAR has been cut down to an average of 94 days to a decision.
If a client is denied on their initial claim, I will appeal the claim with the client. I cannot legally represent the client in a court hearing during the appeal process, but I can help them complete the necessary forms and stay in close contact with Social Security and Disability Determination Services to ensure they have everything they need to make a decision on the appealed claim.
How does SOAR make a difference for your clients?
The approval rates for people who apply for disability income and insurance that are homeless or have no one to assist them is very low, around 10-15 percent. For people with mental illness, it is even more difficult. The approval rate when people use SOAR is 65 percent nationally with a much quicker decision.
Partnering with Austin
People like Austin bring the miracle of hope to men and women who otherwise would be without support to change their circumstances. You can help him continue his work when you become a monthly supporter. You will make programs like SOAR available and help homeless men, women and children get off the streets and into a safe home.