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Ticket-to-Work program helps those with long-term disability reenter the workforce

Julie Chapman loved her job as a fourth-grade teacher. She’d been teaching elementary school for more than 20 years, but in late 2017, she realized her role was in jeopardy.

Julie Chapman and her student Elise Hutchinson with a sign the students made after she returned from chemo.

That December, Chapman was diagnosed with cancer. It was her second time battling the disease, and she already knew what she’d be facing in the upcoming months. Between the chemo and radiation treatments, the doctor appointments, and “everything that goes with being sick,” she’d have to give up teaching, indefinitely.

“Chemo is just a beast in and of itself, but for me, as an elementary school teacher, I just don’t have the stamina,” Chapman said. “Plus, it wipes out your white blood cell count which can compromise your immune system, and a school is one of the top places for spreading germs. Going back to work would be like working in a dish of germs.”

The first time she battled cancer, Chapman attempted to go back to work after completing a combination of radiation and chemotherapies. Only a few days after returning to work, Chapman got strep throat and realized because of her immune system, it was impossible to keep working.

“I was trying so hard to continue to get paid as much as I could, and that just did not work,” Chapman recalled.

The second time around, she knew better. In 2017, cancer came back in her lungs, and Chapman was approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) when it was clear she would not be able to work for more than 12 months. Even though she had paid for the disability insurance through her FICA payroll taxes, Chapman was hesitant to accept the financial assistance SSDI provided, she knew she couldn’t work and there was no other choice.

Then, Allsup called. As an authorized employment network that partners with Social Security Administration (SSA), they would act as her personal representative in communicating with the SSA. And if she was up for it, they would include her in the SSA Ticket-to-Work program so she could start easing her way back into the workforce.

Senior Vice President Mary Dale Walters explained how the private company works.

“There are two companies under Allsup. One is a disability representation organization that helps those who are eligible to obtain their Social Security benefits. For those who get their SSDI benefits, we can help them with the option of trying to work again through the Ticket to Work program. About 52 percent of our clients want to go back to work,” said Walters.

Allsup turned out to be a game-changer for Chapman. She was concerned that if she started working part-time, she would be cut off from SSDI. But they assured her that for a set period of time she would be able to continue receiving financial benefits as she eased back into the workplace.

Like Chapman, most of Allsup’s clients have physical setbacks. Many are injured while working, in highly physical roles such as a firefighter, or a plumber. Others battle a progressive disease that finally affects their ability to continue working… In many cases, these clients may never have the strength to return to their previous position, and Allsup aids by assessing the individuals’ their skillsets, helping them prepare for a job search and helping to place them in a field where their unique skills can make a difference.

“In our model, we manage aspirational statements to help people establish tangible goals,” Walters explained Allsup’s return to work placement process. “Many of us tend to think of ourselves as a certain job. That’s our identity. But often, we have other skills that can be transferred to other types of work.”

Julie Chapman and her husband Mitch.Julie Chapman and her husband Mitch.Giving an example, she continued, “So, you think of a nurse with 35-plus years of experience. They understand the challenges patients have, treatment plans and medical records. They may make excellent case managers who can work via telephone for an insurance company. That’s a position where they don’t have to be on their feet as much and is less physically demanding.”

Getting back to the classroom remains Chapman’s end goal. Throughout her career, she’s worked at two schools total and hopes to pick up where she left off at an elementary school in Hall County.

“This year, I was hired as a part-time para-pro and where next year they have a position for me to go back to part-time teaching,” Chapman said. “And then, hopefully, a year after that, I’ll be back to full-time teaching.”

With Allsup’s assistance, that goal is becoming tangible. Chapman admits the company has relieved a huge stress by dealing with Social Security so she can focus on her health.

“You know when you’re going through all of this — the paperwork, the doctor visits, the treatments — it’s just all pretty overwhelming. And, oh my gosh! I have to deal with Social Security and with all the paperwork that goes with that, but Allsup prepared all of it,” Chapman said. “It’s been great. Allsup does all the legwork in order to communicate with Social Security, so you do get back some financial assistance.”

Only a few months ago, Social Security called Chapman saying she needed to turn in paperwork by the next day or her SSDI benefits would be cut off.

“It sounded like a scam, but she had my case number, and she left her name…name. Allsup took it from there, and I tell you what, in 24 hours, they had that resolved. They had sent the paperwork over, and they had the paperwork to fix it. And that was tremendous for me.”

Life has by no means gotten easy for Chapman. Even working part-time and receiving SSDI, her income is much less than what it was when she was a full-time teacher. But she now has hope that her life will return to some state of normalcy.

“Above all, I want to be very honest about where I am with my disability . . . because the second time going through the surgeries and the chemo’s took a lot out of me. And at 56-years- old, I don’t know if I’ll ever be totally normal again with my stamina.”

To others who face debilitating injuries and disabilities, Chapman has a few words of advice.

“Keep the faith,” Chapman said. “And if you have the ability to work with Allsup, I cannot put into words the emotional support that I got from them. My husband and I both, both had so much running through our heads . . . and they took the burden of working with Social Security to make sure I could get my disability benefits through them. They were fabulous about taking that burden off of me, and they took care of everything that had to be done. So, I would highly encourage anybody that could use Allsup to use them.”

Allsup is a specialized disability service with representatives who are trained to work with those seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Allsup has been in business for over 35 years and has helped over 325,000 individuals receive the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. To learn more, visit