Kessler Foundation awarded Social Security Administration funding to expand research for improving employment outcomes following neurotrauma

Interventional Cooperative Agreement Program funds major Vocational Resource Facilitation Demonstration project supported by federal agencies and private partners

Man with black jacket, blue shirt and tie wearing eyeglasses
Dr. O’Neill is director of the Center for
Employment and Disability Research at
Kessler Foundation

East Hanover, NJ, February 16, 2023. Kessler Foundation has received $3,000,000 from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Interventional Cooperative Agreement Program (ICAP) to fund a Vocational Resource Facilitation Demonstration Project (VRFD) 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 (NIDILRR), and Mathematica, the social policy research company.

Through ICAP, the SSA collaborates with state agencies, private foundations, and other non-federal groups and organizations on interventional research aimed at increasing employment and self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities, including people of color and underserved communities. Kessler Foundation was one of only two organizations to receive funding from SSA’s new ICAP program.

While Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 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’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, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation.

Dr. 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,” he explained.

Man wearing black jacket, pinstripe shirt and tie wearing eyeglasses.
Dr. Kirshblum is chief medical officer of
Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and
Kessler Foundation and director of Spinal
Cord Injury Services at Kessler Institute
for Rehabilitation.
“This SSA program enables Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation to hire three additional resource facilitators, greatly expanding the population served,” said Steven Kirshblum, MD, chief medical officer of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and Kessler Foundation and director of Spinal Cord Injury Services at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. “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.”

Funding: The five-year VRFD project receives federal funding from the SSA (ICAP21000001) of $3,000,000 in addition to in-kind support from Kessler Foundation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a Select Medical inpatient rehabilitation hospital, and the NIDILRR-funded Northern New Jersey Spinal Cord Injury Model System (90SIMS0012).

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, MS, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.


About Select Medical

Select Medical is one of the largest operators of critical illness recovery hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation clinics, and occupational health centers in the United States based on number of facilities. As of December 31, 2022, Select Medical operated 103 critical illness recovery hospitals in 28 states, 31 rehabilitation hospitals in 12 states, and 1,928 outpatient rehabilitation clinics in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Concentra operated 540 occupational health centers in 41 states. At December 31, 2022, Select Medical had operations in 46 states and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit:

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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