Work Incentives Specialist Advocates (WISA’s), are individuals who have been certified to provide work incentives counseling services to DARS clients who are receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Although clients working with DARS on job placement have a desire to return to work, fear surrounding what will happen to their benefits and health insurance when they return to work serves as one of the biggest barriers to achieving that goal. WISA’s have completed extensive and rigorous training through either Cornell University or Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) surrounding the impact of work on Social Security benefits and have been certified as Work Incentives Practitioners, making them the authority on work incentive regulations that protect the client’s benefits while they test their ability to work.
Although the trend has been to refer to professionals as benefits counselors, in Virginia, we refer to these individuals as Work Incentive Specialists. This is because our goal is to get people to think about this system regarding their work, not their benefits. The WISA model shifts the focus to how a client’s disposable income can go up as they work, and does not focus solely on how benefits will change. Our goal as an agency is to assist clients by creating the safety net that supports each individual’s choice to go to work. There are 13 services that can be provided by a WISA and authorized by a VR counselor on behalf of a client.