What Should I Expect from Vocational Rehabilitation?
In Maryland, there is more to workers compensation than just medical treatment, income replacement assistance, and payment for your permanent injury.
How do we help those injured workers whose permanent injuries are so severe that they cannot return to their previous occupation because they can no longer perform the physical tasks required? That is the role of vocational rehabilitation.
Vocational Rehabilitation is a crucial part of the workers compensation system, designed to return an injured worker to the workplace by providing them with the new skills they need to succeed and with help to find a new job.
You are entitled to vocational rehabilitation if your injury prevents you from returning to the occupation you held at the time of the injury. While the severity of some injuries makes this obvious, usually a medical report documenting your current condition and your inability to return to your former work duties is necessary to establish your entitlement to vocational rehabilitation.
All vocational rehabilitation services must be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. If the worker’ compensation insurer refuses to voluntarily authorize vocational rehabilitation services, we request a hearing before a Workers’ Compensation Commissioner to establish your right to get vocational rehabilitation services.
If agreed (or adjudicated after a hearing) that you are eligible, a certified specialist in vocational rehabilitation is assigned who then oversees various rehabilitation services that can include vocational testing, job placement, vocational counseling, on-the-job training, and retraining.
When vocational rehabilitation begins, it typically proceeds along the following path:
- Interview with the vocational rehabilitation counselor – the counselor will collect a complete history of your background, your current physical limitations, and other vocationally important information such as your prior work experience, hobbies, and personal interests that might affect your employability.
- Development of the Vocational Rehabilitation Plan and Goals – the counselor, with your assistance, will develop a customized rehabilitation plan with specific goals tailored to your individual needs.
- Obtain Agreement on the Rehabilitation Plan – you and the workers’ compensation insurer must both agree that the rehabilitation plan and goals are acceptable, or the proposed plan will need to be presented to a Commissioner for a determination as to the appropriateness of the plan.
- Action – after all have agreed to the plan and the plan has been submitted and approved by the Commission, you, with the counselor’s assistance, will begin to pursue job leads or training.
Some of the questions I frequently hear from injured worker’s who are involved in vocational rehabilitation include:
Q: Will I be Paid during the vocational rehabilitation process?
A: While you participate in vocational rehabilitation, you will receive vocational rehabilitation monetary benefits, paid at your temporary total disability rate.
Q: Is it Required that I Get a Job Making As Much Money that I made at the time of my injury?
A: The goal, but not the requirement, of vocational rehabilitation, is to try to match your earnings as close as possible to the earnings that you had at the time of your work accident.
Q: When is Retraining Provided?
A: When there are no suitable jobs in the local job market in which you may become gainfully employed you may be a candidate for retraining. A training program cannot last longer then two years. This does not mean you will always receive two years of training, your approved course may require a shorter time period to complete.
Q: What alternatives are explored before I qualify for retraining?
A: In most cases, the rehabilitation process will begin by looking into whether you can return to your former employer in a job with modified duties or in a different job. If this is not feasible, other forms of job placement are then attempted in work positions in which you can use skills you already have (called “transferable skills”). If this proves unsuccessful, then we develop a training plan.
Q: Can I pick my own school or develop my own rehabilitation plan?
A: You may already have an interest in a specific type of alternate employment or you may have selected a school that you would like to attend. The fact that you have thought about your interests is a positive factor. However, all aspects of job search or retraining must be carried out through the rehabilitation counselor and included in the final rehabilitation plan.