Successful Program Model: Washington State’s SOAR Program for Veterans

As mentioned in the article "Pushing To the Goal: Three Ways to Accelerate Ending Veteran Homelessness", a key element is improving Veterans’ access to mainstream benefits. A program developed in Washington State helps to increase access to Social Security disability benefits for disabled Veterans and their families who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness. One of the specific objectives of this program is to support the goal of eliminating homelessness among Veterans by 2015. Helping Veterans access Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) plays an important function in achieving the 2015 goal because SSI/SSDI provides access to income, housing, health insurance and treatment, as well as employment and related supports.

The Washington State SOAR (SSI and SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery) program strives to streamline and expedite the Social Security disability benefits application and approval process for disabled Veterans. Specifically, SOAR provides training to case managers and other direct service providers that better equips them to assist disabled people with the application process for SSI and SSDI. What makes the Washington SOAR program unique is its focus on Veterans and their families, as well as a broad-based partnership that offers comprehensive and thorough coordination across various state and federal agencies, including:

  • Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA);
  • Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, the state agency that provides state benefits and services;
  • Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, through the state PATH coordinator;
  • Division of Disability Determination Services (DDS);
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, through local VA Medical Centers and the Veterans Benefits Administration;
  • U.S. Social Security Administration through its Regional Office (SSA); and,
  • SOAR Technical Assistance Team, sponsored by Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

DVA entered into memorandum of understanding with its regional SSA and DDS part and trains service providers in the State of Washington on the SOAR method. Concurrently, DVA directly helps Veterans with their applications through an active collaboration with two VA Medical Centers, as well as those Veterans living in DVAs 60-bed Grant and Per Diem transitional housing program.

Over 200 providers received SOAR training across the state since 2011. In the past 24 months, DVA assisted with the approval of over 150 SSA/SSDI claims. The average wait time for approval on these claims was only 93 days and they received 100 percent approval. These rates become even more impressive when compared nationally: only about 30 percent of individuals who apply for SSI/SSDI receive approval on initial application and, when applications are denied, their appeals can take an average of one year to complete.