Supported Employment is a gateway to wellness


There is ample evidence showing that supported employment works well. Programs such as the one offered at the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) help the severely mentally ill transition into the workplace through supportive therapy and work programs. They improve lives, self-esteem, and the financial prospects for many who are disabled by mental illness.

These programs usually do not interfere with the patient's disability income, if any, as they are considered therapy by the Department of Defense's disability program and the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Most programs focus on a combination of therapy, work capability, and transition into private employment.

Work therapy (supported employment) is not covered by most insurance, however, and is most often done through social programs, private trusts, or other funding. One VA program the author surveyed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, pays tax-exempt minimum wage to employees for up to forty hours per week for up to three months. It then transitions the patient into private jobs with continued therapeutic support. Some of the private jobs are also tax-exempt, falling under the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, while others do not. The goal of the VA's program is to help disabled veterans find employment and the fulfillment and control it gives their lives.

Other programs from other services offer similar programs, often in cooperation with private companies or charities in need of workers.

A recent survey of the evidence for supported employment found that not only is the evidence overwhelmingly positive:

"Supported employment consistently demonstrated positive outcomes for individuals with mental disorders, including higher rates of competitive employment, fewer days to the first competitive job, more hours and weeks worked, and higher wages. There was also strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of individual elements of the model."

That survey was published in the January issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, which is conducting a twelve-part series of literature reviews commissioned by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


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