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The Role of Vocational Rehabilitation in Workers' Compensation

Restoring productivity completes the healing circle after suffering harm at work. Vocational rehabilitation is a logical, natural component of workers' compensation programs that provide benefits for employees injured or diseased in the course of their employment. Public policy supports vocationally rehabilitating a worker unable to perform his or her previous job whenever retraining or adaptation is feasible, unless the extent of the injury prevents any meaningful return to work. Most states include vocational rehabilitation as part of their workers' compensation systems and for those that do not, vocational rehabilitation services may otherwise be available to injured workers through their state agencies responsible for labor and employment matters.

Vocational rehabilitation is the provision of professional services to a worker with injuries or disabilities to bring back his or her ability to earn a living. An injury may heal to the extent possible but leave lingering symptoms and limitations. In determining eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services, many workers' compensation systems look at factors such as whether the injured employee can return to the type of work he or she did before the injury, whether he or she can earn a similar wage level, or whether he or she could do another job using prior training and experience.

Typically there is an evaluation of whether rehabilitation can really be effective in a particular circumstance, especially if the injury is severe. In assessing probable effectiveness of rehabilitation, certain factors are commonly considered, such as age, previous training and work experience, educational level, and physical and mental limitations. Evidence of impairment in activities of daily living is relevant to the evaluation.

If eligibility for vocational rehabilitation services is established, the cost is sometimes borne by the employer or its insurer, sometimes by the state, and sometimes by a combination of these sources, depending on the particular state. The worker will usually be eligible for a basic cash benefit for support during the period of rehabilitation.

Exact services available will vary by state law and with the individual's particular injury and resultant needs. Possible vocational rehabilitation services include:

  • Evaluation services to determine individual needs, abilities, and interests

  • Career counseling and guidance services

  • Training, such as on-site training, job coaching, business or trade school, or college

  • Job development and placement services to help with job searching

  • Rehabilitation technology or adaptive equipment

  • Postemployment services to support vocational needs related to disability

Depending on the state, vocational rehabilitation benefits may last for a predetermined length of time or may last until a certain occurrence happens, such as the completion of a program, the procurement of an appropriate job, or the refusal of the worker to continue. In some situations an extension may be available.

Claimants should be cautioned that in many states receipt of vocational rehabilitation services, of other workers' compensation benefits, or of both is conditioned upon the claimants' cooperative and motivated participation in vocational evaluation and rehabilitation attempts. Claimants should also be careful not to miss any vocational rehabilitation or workers' compensation application, notice, appeal, or deadline requirements in their states.

Questions about vocational rehabilitation services in relation to your work injury can be directed to your appropriate state agency or to a knowledgeable attorney with workers' compensation experience. Remember time may be of the essence in preserving your rights and in maximizing your vocational recovery, so you should become informed as soon as possible after your injury so you can take appropriate action.

Copyright © 2011 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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