If you – or someone you know – had ERI’s help applying for benefits, you probably know Jolin Mitchel. He has been the manager and main contact for ERI’s Community Benefits Specialist (CBS) program since its inception.
Starting as an intern in 2009, Jolin has become one of ERI’s longest-serving employees. He has helped countless individuals apply for Social Security cash benefits and Medicaid. Over the last 13 years he has expanded his knowledge of the benefit application process – gaining valuable insights from each person he has helped apply. During his time at ERI, he has kept current with the ever-changing evolution of the application process, to best help individuals navigate what can be a confusing process.
He’s spent the last several months, training and mentoring Sarah Elswick-Hustad. On September 1, 2022, she will take over his role as the main contact and program lead for ERI’s CBS program.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jolin about his insights and the next chapter of his career.
Sarah Lyngdal: What is the Community Benefits Specialist Program?
Jolin Mitchel: The CBS program helps individuals with mental health diagnosis in Dane County apply for benefits (Social Security cash benefits, Medicaid and other benefits). CBS serves individuals who are at least 18 years old. Learn more about the Community Benefits Specialist Program.
Sarah Lyngdal: What are your thoughts on the CBS program after your exit?
Jolin Mitchel: I feel the program is in great hands because ERI has a strong team. Sarah Elswick-Hustad came to us with a lot of experience working with Social Security in a different capacity – as a representative payee – and she’s gotten up to speed with the benefits application process. I’m confident it will be a smooth transition.
Sarah Lyngdal: What did you enjoy most about your role at ERI?
Jolin Mitchel: I appreciated the flexibility of the CBS program. Dane County and ERI offered the resources for me to be helpful to individuals applying for benefits in the ways the person needed it most. Pre-pandemic, I would often meet with someone in their home or wherever was easy for them to get to in the community to help them sort through documentation and complete paperwork. I tried to simplify the application process as best as I could. I’ve enjoyed working with consumers, case managers, and other community partners over the years.
Sarah Lyngdal: What did you like least about your role at ERI?
Jolin Mitchel: I think we’re seeing an amplification of the challenges of large systems and reduced staffing and the ways things can fall through the cracks. Social Security is experiencing high workloads, reduced staffing, and significant delays in every area. This includes assigning applications for review as well as sending them to the Disability Determination Bureau (DDB) for the medical review portion of the application. In my experience, once the initial paperwork is completed, it might take 10 months or more for a decision. If denied, someone can appeal which means completing more paperwork and it would be several more months before a decision is made on the appeal. It’s not uncommon for someone to appeal decisions twice. The amount of time it takes to apply can be discouraging.
There are a lot of potential barriers that can prevent someone from working and disability is just one of them. There are so many great service providers doing great work. There are great claims reps and staff at Social Security and the DDB. It’s limitations in the systems and the way they are set up that’s frustrating. That said, I think the work ERI does in the CBS program is important to help simplify and guide individuals through the application process. We are just trying to do the best we can with the way things are set up for disability applications, but we do take any opportunities to provide feedback that will hopefully make positive changes to the process in the future.
Sarah Lyngdal: What’s next for you?
Jolin Mitchel: I’ve been working part-time as a psychotherapist with Four Winds Counseling LLC for the past few years. I’m really enjoying that work and will be doing that full-time as of September 1. I’m providing counseling for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, gender and sexuality issues and relationship issues. People are welcome to email me at JolinM@FourWindsCounselingLLC.com.
I’m grateful to ERI for all of the support over the years: teaching me about benefits, helping me provide good quality services, giving me great coworkers to work with and letting me reduce my FTE over the past few years as I explored the next phase of my career.