SOAR works to increase access to benefits

Author Kristin Lupfer is a Program Area Director at Policy Research Associates, Inc. PRA is a technical assistance and research provider in the behavioral health field. Core services provided by PRA inform policy and result in improved outcomes for a variety of communities.

A new evaluation of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) model has found that SOAR is effective for increasing approval of disability applications. SOAR is a national program designed to increase access to the disability income benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for eligible adults who are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness and have a mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder.

How SOAR Works

The SOAR technical assistance (TA) initiative evolved to help adults with disabilities who were experiencing homelessness and who were unable to work, apply for SSI and SSDI. Despite high levels of disability among people experiencing homelessness, many who are potentially eligible never apply for benefits. Among those who apply, the chance of being approved for SSI/SSDI is very low without someone taking an active role to assist with the documentation of disability.

Currently case managers can receive SOAR training through the SOAR Online Course to learn how to complete and submit a thorough SSI/SSDI application packet. Critical components of SOAR include:

  • Serving as the applicant’s representative
  • Collecting medical records
  • Arranging for assessments
  • Writing a Medical Summary Report
  • Conducting quality review
  • Tracking outcomes

State and local SOAR team leaders support SOAR-trained case managers and keep stakeholders engaged. The SOAR TA Center provides the technical assistance needed to keep the SOAR effort moving forward.

The Study

The study, An Evaluation of SOAR: Implementation and Outcomes of an Effort to Improve Access to SSI and SSDI, examined how the SOAR program and TA provided through the SOAR TA Center impacted both implementation of the SOAR model within local communities and outcomes from this implementation. Evaluators looked at 13 states that received SOAR TA and compared with the approval rating between homeless persons participating in SOAR and those homeless persons who did not. The study found that SOAR participants had a 50 percent approval rate compared to non-SOAR participants who had a 28 percent approval rate.

Going Forward

The Social Security disability programs can provide a steady source of income and health insurance for people with mental illness who are experiencing homelessness. This makes it possible for many to secure housing, treatment, and other needed supports.

When beginning a SOAR initiative, it is important to plan how your community will introduce SOAR to key partner agencies, support dedicated SOAR benefits specialists, ensure quality review of applications, track outcomes, and fund/sustain the initiative. Identifying how your community will address these key areas will provide a strong foundation for your SOAR initiative.

Visit the SOAR website to learn more about how SOAR can make a difference in your community at