Kessler Foundation awarded $3M to help adults in workforce after disabling neurotrauma

Kessler Foundation on Tuesday said it received $3 million from the Social Security Administration’s Interventional Cooperative Agreement Program to fund a Vocational Resource Facilitation Demonstration Project to help adults stay in the workforce following disabling neurotrauma. Partners in the five-year project include Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, and Mathematica, the social policy research company.

Kessler Foundation was one of only two organizations to receive funding from SSA’s new ICAP program.

While Social Security Disability Insurance provides a necessary safety net, research shows that, with early access to targeted vocational counseling, many people can return to the workforce.

The VRFD intervention has already been pilot tested with success by Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development‘s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in patients with recent spinal cord injury, significantly increasing their rate of employment. With the goal of enrolling 500 working-age adults with either brain or spinal cord injuries, the study will be the first large-scale randomized experiment of VRFD services for patients recovering from neurotrauma, according to principal investigator John O’Neill, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation.

O’Neill credits the initial success of the VRF model to the integral role of the vocational resource facilitator, a specially trained vocational counselor employed by Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

“As a full-fledged member of the rehabilitation team, this counselor engages with the patient soon after their admission, helping them explore their employment options during rehabilitation, through discharge and outpatient therapy, and providing support for job searches, onboarding and integration into the workplace. By coordinating with DVRS case managers, the counselor facilitates the individual’s access to state vocational resources and benefits,” O’Neill explained.

“This SSA program enables Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation to hire three additional resource facilitators, greatly expanding the population served,” Dr. Steven Kirshblum, chief medical officer of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and Kessler Foundation and director of spinal cord injury services at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, said. “By expanding the evidence base for VRF, this promising project may promote the implementation of VRF at other rehabilitation hospitals, with the potential for improving outcomes nationally for many people striving to return to work after neurotrauma.”