The goal of the workers’ compensation system is to help injured workers recover so they can get back to work as soon as it is safe to do so. But sometimes, injured workers may be left with certain physical or psychological restrictions as a result of their work injuries, so that it is not possible for them to return to their prior positions of employment. Vocational rehabilitation (or “voc rehab,” as it is often called) is a program that is intended to help injured workers safely return to work within their abilities.
In order to participate in voc rehab, an injured worker must be both eligible and feasible. In a nutshell, to be eligible, the injured worker must be experiencing a significant impediment to employment as a direct result of the allowed conditions in the claim. These impediments may be physical (i.e. no squatting or crawling, no lifting more than 10 lbs, etc.) or psychological (i.e. limited contact with the public, routine tasks only, etc.). To be feasible to participate in voc rehab, a review of all available information must demonstrate that the voc rehab services are likely to result in the injured worker returning to work.
Any party to the claim can refer an injured worker for voc rehab, although the referral most often comes from the physician of record. Sometimes, the referral will be made in conjunction with a request for a Functional Capacities Evaluation, a battery of testing intended to determine an injured worker’s physical abilities. The Managed Care Organization will then determine eligibility and feasibility.
Once an injured worker is found eligible and feasible to participate in voc rehab, services will begin. Voc rehab services are not one-size-fits-all; they are tailored to the injured worker’s individual background and vocational goals. For one person, voc rehab may consist of computer skills training. For someone else, it may consist of resume building and an assisted job search. For another person, voc rehab may consist of assistance with getting a GED or other certification. No matter what voc rehab consists of, the injured worker will be assigned a case manager, with whom he or she will meet frequently to monitor the progress of meeting his or her vocational goals. While participating in voc rehab, the injured worker will receive living maintenance payment, which is a form of wage replacement.
Generally, an injured worker’s participation in voc rehab is viewed favorably by the BWC and Industrial Commission, especially when the injured worker subsequently pursues temporary total disability or permanent total disability in the claim. In some cases, the Industrial Commission expects the injured worker to attempt voc rehab before pursuing permanent total disability.
This has been a very brief overview of what voc rehab is, and how it may be able to help you. Voc rehab is just one of the many benefits available to injured workers. If you have further questions, or would like to speak to an attorney about the specifics of your case, please contact us at (614) 221-1300.