Assistant Professor Michelle Ballan and master’s student Kathleen Chiarantona have received a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program to conduct a research study on social security benefits for wounded warriors.  The prestigious grant is awarded to only eight student/faculty mentor teams in the U.S.  Chiarantona is one of only two master's students to receive the award.  
 
Entitled “Providing for Our Heroes: Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors,” the study aims to understand the social security disability determination and benefit application process through the narratives of wounded warriors. Ballan and Chiarantona seek to determine the most effective ways of communicating with and serving wounded warriors by learning from their experiences and addressing the systemic challenges they encounter.  The goal of the study is to inform programmatic areas in need of development or refinement to ultimately increase benefits enrollment among wounded warriors and their families. 
 
The study aims will be accomplished through an analysis of 60 in-depth interviews with wounded warriors in various stages of the SSA’s expedited disability determination process.  The interviews focus on three primary questions for wounded warriors who have applied or are applying for benefits: 1) How did you learn about the expedited disability determination process for acquiring benefits? 2) How would you describe preparing the application and the process leading to a determination? and 3) What types of support and information are necessary to improve the process?  For wounded warriors who have yet to apply, the interview explores reasons for not applying, and necessary resources and information for filing the application. 
 
“The study is an initial step to address a significant gap in the scientific literature on the efficiency, accessibility, and success of the expedited disability determination process for Social Security benefits,” says Professor Ballan. “Wounded warriors with the most debilitating injuries often spend years undergoing care in VA hospitals and military facilities. Yet, little is known about the length of time afforded these servicemen and women to be informed of and provided access to an expedited application for SSA benefits for themselves and their families.”
 
This line of research will examine the success and limitations of various outreach attempts to inform and assist wounded warriors with the application for SSA benefits, explore mechanisms to expedite disability decisions for wounded warriors, and provide recommendations to improve the disability evaluation process for military veterans.  “Our ultimate goal is to enhance coordination of timely access and successful SSA benefit applications for eligible disabled veterans,” says Chiarantona. 
 
For more information about the study, please contact Michelle Ballan at 212-851-2221 or msb2008@columbia.edu.

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