A Super-Sized Successful SOAR

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR)
Seasons of SOAR !

September 2015
SOAR Works for Maryland  
Hands holding up pieces of paper with letters that spell SOAR.   
Continuing to SOAR: Three New Dedicated SOAR positions!


BHA recently received word that its application for a three year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was approved!
This grant, the Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI), will allow the state to enhance behavioral health and peer recovery services using various evidence-based and promising practices to individuals who are homeless, and includes new dedicated SOAR positions in Anne Arundel and Carroll Counties!
Additionally, as part of BHA's new Housing First pilot project, Emily Gordon from HCH is the new dedicated SOAR case manager working with individuals transitioning from Spring Grove Hospital Center.

What is SOAR?
SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) is a federal initiative that expedites and improves access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness and diagnosed with a mental illness and/or co-occurring disorder. These programs, administered by the Social Security Administration, provide income and access to health insurance for individuals that are unable to work due to medical and/or psychiatric  conditions.
The application process is complex and difficult to navigate. Through effective partnerships, technical assistance and training, the SOAR Initiative aims to increase the amount of applications and approvals for vulnerable individuals. For more information about SOAR visit
 Current Data

As of June 2015, data has been collected on over 970 SOAR claims.

The overall state approval rate is 81%. For initial claims the state approval rate is 82% (compared with the SOAR national average of 65%) and
our average processing times for initial cases is 76 days.

New Maryland
 SOAR Trainers
The first Maryland SOAR Train the Trainer program was held on March 9, 2015. Rich Schiffauer, Carmela Amankwaah and Bilqis Rock successfully completed the program and are now certified SOAR trainers for Maryland.
Maryland State
BHA is delighted to announce that, following Marian Bland's promotion to Deputy Director of the Clinical Services Division, Caroline Bolas, Director of the Maryland SOAR Initiative, has taken over the role of Maryland's State SOAR Lead.

A Super-Sized
Successful Start
to SOAR in
the Mid-Shore

 We are delighted that the Mid-shore region is our latest new recruit to SOAR-thanks especially to Johanna Norris for her wonderful leadership in bringing SOAR to Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne and Talbot Counties! On July 7 and 8, 2015, providers from across the mid-shore counties and other regions of the state participated in a two day SOAR training in Easton.
Further SOAR trainings will be held in September in Catonsville and Hagerstown.
To find out more, contact your SOAR lead or Caroline Bolas at caroline.bolas@maryland.gov

 A large room with high wooden ceilings. Dozens of people are sitting at tables and listening to a woman speaker.
SOAR Community Celebrates, Shares at 2nd Annual SOAR Conference

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, over 90 SOAR providers and partners gathered to participate in Maryland's second annual SOAR conference! The day featured presentations and breakout sessions on SOAR-related topics such as immigration and SSI/SSDI, traumatic brain injury and the disability determination process, substance use disorders, the role of the consultative examination, and understanding the appeals process. The day also included opportunities to interact with representatives from Disability Determination Services and from the SOAR national technical assistance center.

For many participants one of the highlights of the conference was hearing three individuals who received SOAR services share their personal stories and experience of working through the Social Security process with SOAR. The powerful stories offered a glimpse into their journeys and how SOAR not only assisted in accessing the benefits they needed, but helped them to realize their ability to contribute to our community and find meaning and purpose.

The conference was also an opportunity to recognize the efforts and achievements of all those involved in Maryland's SOAR Initiative past and present. As part of this, the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) presented the following awards:
L - R: Caroline Bolas, Carmen Garcia, Veronica Henry, Sharon Lemone, Patrick Connealy, Marian Bland  
 * Most SOAR Approvals in FY2015: Carmela Amankawaah of Montgomery County (SOAR funded position)
* Agency with Most SOAR approvals in FY2015 (unfunded): Community Case Management of Montgomery County)
* Agency with Most SOAR approvals in FY2015 (funded): Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) of Baltimore City
* Outstanding dedication award: Victoria Frazer of Prince George's County
* Outstanding Collaboration Award: Amy Baker of Carroll County

Additionally, Margaret Flanagan became the second inductee into Maryland's SOAR Hall of Fame. As the Baltimore City SOAR Lead for the past five years, Margaret's energy and innovation has contributed significantly to SOAR's success across the state.
Finally, the SOAR local leads across Maryland collectively presented awards to the State SOAR leadership team.
L - R: Vicky Frazer, Kathie DiNoto, Michelle Petersen, Kate Callahan, Melissa Wright Powell, Bilqis Rock, Jessica Kraus, Amy Baker, Richard Schiffauer, Caroline Bolas, Marian Bland, Margaret Flanagan

 The day was a huge success.  Special thanks to the planning committee, the State SOAR planning group and all the presenters. Handouts from the conference can be obtained by emailing caroline.bolas@maryland.gov

An illustration of a house and set of keys in front of the planet Earth.
Housing First Pilot Program Stabilizes Lives
Income is a crucial step in the recovery process. However, even with a stable income, finding and maintaining housing can prove difficult. A new BHA Housing First pilot program is providing rental assistance and case management services for a number of individuals, including those who were approved for SSI/SSDI through SOAR, in Baltimore City, and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Mr. J is a participant in the Baltimore City program.
Mr. J, assisted by staff at HCH, obtained SSI through SOAR in 2014. Mr. J is an animated 50-year-old man who loves to tell stories and who has a keen sense of humor. He grew up in a family in which both his father and oldest brother were physically and sexually abusive towards the younger children.  He dropped out of school in the 9th grade, and spent much of his teen and adult life homeless, addicted, and on the streets of Baltimore or incarcerated; throughout these years, he witnessed much traumatizing violence.  He has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Unspecified Personality Disorder, PTSD, and Alcohol and Cocaine Use Disorders. 
It was not until release from prison in 2014 that he sought ongoing mental health, medical, and addictions treatment at HCH and was able to control his substance abuse. He moved in with his sister. Unfortunately, not long after, he was traumatized again. Mr. J ran to the aid of a female neighbor who was crying for help, but then was brutally assaulted and robbed by the attackers and the supposed victim.  He had to have several surgeries to his face and jaw because of the assault. The trauma was compounded by the unsupportive reaction of his family, including his sister, who asked him to leave. He began using cocaine again as a way to soothe his anger and nightmares.
In the past year, Mr. J has worked with his mental health therapist and other providers to rebuild his life. He is no longer taking cocaine, has reduced his drinking, and now has a supportive girlfriend.  Through the Housing First pilot, in April 2015 he obtained the first housing that he has ever had on his own. He is extremely appreciative, and when newly housed, gave hilarious descriptions of himself walking around the apartment and 'oohing and ahhing' over every feature.  "I'm finally a real person with a real home," he said tearfully.  "God cares about me."