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The SOAR models helps needy people apply for federal benefits



Kate Baasch has a job that involves a lot of acronyms and a lot of paperwork. To an outsider — me, for example — it can seem confusing.

But Baasch perfectly crystallized the riddle she tries to solve every day: “How would someone know who you are and what your challenges are if they only looked at your medical records?”

What sort of picture would emerge if you were reduced to your doctor’s reports, your hospital discharge papers, your list of emergency room visits, your prescriptions? Probably an incomplete one.

And that’s where Baasch comes in. She manages a program at the D.C.-based charity Bread for the City called SOAR. That stands for SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery. SSI/SSDI stands for Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance.

Those are federal programs that provide benefits for people with disabilities — SSDI for those who have some work history, SSI for those who don’t.

Even those of us in the most stable situations can struggle with government paperwork. Now imagine you have a physical or mental disability and are homeless or precariously close to becoming homeless. SOAR was created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of HHS, to provide a template to help.


“My role as a SOAR case manager is to be your representative, so that I can talk to Social Security on your behalf,” Baasch said.

The process starts with creating as complete a picture as possible of the applicant, their medical history and why their disability means work is not an option for them.

The complications are many. Some of the people Baasch works with have been treated at several hospitals. Sometimes their names are slightly different on the various discharge papers. Sometimes the wrong procedure has been written down. Sometimes the relevant documents have been lost completely.

At Bread for the City, doctors prescribe fresh fruit and veggies

And even when a document does exist, it usually tells a single story: Here is a specific medical problem and how it was treated. It doesn’t describe how that problem impinges on a person’s broader life.

“Sometimes, people just don’t know they should list everything that’s affecting them,” Baasch said. That includes mental health conditions that some applicants are reluctant to share.

Another challenge: Social Security is very mail-heavy.


“If you’re homeless and don’t have a reliable place to get mail, you might miss that Social Security wanted you to go see their doctor,” Baasch said. “Because I have a line of communication, the person evaluating the application can call or email to say, ‘I don’t see any records.’”

Baasch is able to follow up with the applicant, their doctors and with Social Security. She speaks with her clients to compile their work history, if they have one, and writes a comprehensive medical summary. She can include a supplemental statement describing the functional limitations created by the medical problems.

Nathaniel Parker, 62, lives in Northwest D.C. He has suffered from cancer, diabetes, sleep apnea and neuropathy. Parker had worked as a driver for a mental health agency, driving passengers to and from group homes. But his condition made that impossible. He’s a patient at Bread for the City’s medical clinic. A doctor there thought he might be someone who would benefit from Baasch’s skills.

She started working with him earlier this year and in August he was approved for SSI benefits.

“I came to Bread for the City and they welcomed me,” Parker said. “All the help that I needed, it was right here.”

Last year, Baasch worked with 23 applicants. Sixty-five percent of them were approved for benefits. She attributes that to the careful hand-holding the SOAR approach provides. Typically, only a quarter of non-SOAR applicants have their initial application approved, she said.

The monthly SSI benefit for a single person is $914. That doesn’t sound like much. And it probably won’t allow a person to rent an apartment in pricey Washington. But it does provide a bit of breathing room.


Said Baasch: “I was working with someone and he said, ‘I would take anything. Right now I can’t even buy toilet paper.’”

Getting that income, she said, “can be that steppingstone.”

“I am proud of the work I do,” Baasch told me.

And I’m proud of The Washington Post readers who support Helping Hand, our annual fundraising campaign for local charities. You can support Bread for the City, too.

To give online, visit To give by mail, make a check payable to “Bread for the City” and send it to Bread for the City, Attn: Development, 1525 7th NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Source: Washington Post

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