Someone injured at work might never be able to return to their job. However, with additional training or education, they might transition to a different job, either within their company or in a completely different field. This will allow them to return to work and begin supporting themselves.
Vocational rehabilitation is an important workers’ compensation benefit in Vermont. As with other benefits, however, vocational rehabilitation is sometimes the source of disputes between injured workers and insurance companies. Please contact Larson & Gallivan Law today if you have questions about vocational rehabilitation. Our Rutland, VTworkers’ compensation attorneys can explain your rights to vocational rehabilitation and help you figure out what to do next.
Qualifying for Vocational Rehabilitation
In Vermont, vocational rehabilitation is not offered to every employee injured at work. Instead, you will qualify only if you have been disabled for 90 days and/or are otherwise unable to return to suitable employment. The insurance adjuster should start the vocational rehabilitation process by assigning a vocational rehabilitation counselor, but if they don’t you can request a screening.
An independent screener will review relevant information including medical records. You will also be interviewed by phone and asked a few questions about your job and your medical progress.. The screener is trying to determine if you will likely be able to return to your old job. The screener will then say whether a VR Counselor should be assigned.
Once a licensed vocational rehabilitation counselor is assigned, the counselor will meet with you to determine if you are “entitled” to vocational rehabilitation services. This is called an “Entitlement Assessment.” This is different from the screening process. The VR Counselor will examine your medical records, your education and training, your work history, and your wages. If the VR Counselor finds that because of the work injury you are unable to return to employment for which you have prior training or experience and which pays a suitable wage, you will be found “entitled.”
Once you are found entitled, then you work with the VR counselor to form a plan with the goal of finding “suitable work”.
A Return to Work Plan
Suitable Work is essentially a job that:
- You would be able to physically and mentally perform, and have the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform; and
- Is within reasonable commuting distance; and
- Is regular, full-time work (unless you were working part-time when you got hurt); and
- Pays close to what you were making when you got hurt.
You will work with a counselor to develop a vocational plan so that you can eventually find suitable work. There is a hierarchy that Vermont follows:
- Returning to your same employer in a different or modified job
- Returning to a different employer in a different or modified job
- Receiving on-the-job training
- Obtaining new skills training
- Enrolling in an academic program
- Being self employed
Returning to your same employer in a modified position is the first goal. If that’s not possible, then you and your counselor will work down the list. The goal is always to find “suitable employment,” not just any job.
Disputes Regarding Vocational Rehabilitation
There are many issues that could be in dispute regarding vocational rehabilitation. Here are just a few:
- You disagree with a doctor’s diagnosis or assessment that you have reached maximum improvement.
- You want to change your vocational rehabilitation counselor.
- Your employer’s insurer does not believe you are entitled to vocational services.
- You disagree with the plan that your VR Counselor wants, either because the commute is too far or the pay is too low.
- The insurance company won’t agree to the plan that you and your VR Counselor put together.
You might be able to resolve some of these disputes informally, but most conflicts with the insurance company are not resolved collaboratively. Determining whether you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation services, and coming up with a plan that both will return you to suitable work and the insurance company will agree with is very complicated and often requires legal assistance.
Call Larson & Gallivan Today
Our firm has helped countless people in Rutland and surrounding areas withworker compensation claims. Contact us to get started.