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Know Your Employment Rights

What Is the State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services Program?

Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, federal grants are awarded to assist states in operating a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program. This program provides VR services to eligible individuals with disabilities, consistent with their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities, so that such individuals may prepare for and engage in gainful, competitive employment.

Who Is Eligible for VR Services?

To be eligible for VR services, an individual must:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that is a substantial impediment to employment;

  • be able to benefit in terms of employment from VR services; and

  • require VR services to prepare for, enter, engage in, or retain gainful employment that is consistent with the individual's strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, and informed choice.

How Does an Eligible Individual Receive VR Services?

A VR counselor is assigned to each eligible individual. The counselor gathers as much information as possible about the individual's work history, education and training, abilities and interests, rehabilitation needs, and possible career goals. Together, the counselor and the individual develop an Individualized Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) that identifies the individual's long-term vocational goals.

The IWRP lists the steps necessary to achieve the individual's goals, the services required to help the individual reach those goals, and evaluation criteria used to determine whether goals have been achieved. The IWRP also contains a description of how the individual was involved in choosing among alternative goals, objectives, services, and service providers.

The state VR counselor provides some services directly to the eligible individual and arranges for and/or purchases other services from providers in the community.

What Are the VR Services an Eligible Individual May Receive?

VR services are those services that an eligible individual may need in order to achieve his/her vocational goal. These include, but are not limited to:

  • an assessment to determine eligibility and VR needs;

  • vocational counseling, guidance, and referral services;

  • physical and mental restoration services;

  • vocational and other training, including on-the-job training;

  • maintenance for additional costs incurred while the individual is receiving certain VR services;

  • transportation related to other VR services;

  • interpreter services for individuals who are deaf;

  • reader services for individuals who are blind;

  • services to assist students with disabilities to transition from school to work;

  • personal assistance services (including training in managing, supervising, and directing personal assistance services) while an individual is receiving VR services;

  • rehabilitation technology services and devices; and

  • supported-employment and job-placement services.

Does Every Eligible Individual Receive VR Services?

If a state VR agency is unable to serve all eligible individuals with the resources available for the VR program, it must establish an order of selection for services, serving first those individuals with the most severe disabilities. Individuals who cannot be selected immediately for services are placed on a waiting list.

Does the Eligible Individual Ever Have to Pay for VR Services?

Based on the individual's available financial resources, the state VR agency may require an eligible individual to help pay for services. However, all eligible individuals who are accepted have access to the following at no cost to them:

  • assessments to determine eligibility and VR needs;

  • vocational counseling, guidance, and referral services; and

  • job-placement services.

What Are Comparable Services and Benefits?

Before providing certain services, the VR counselor must consider the availability of comparable services and benefits for which the individual is eligible through other sources, such as private insurance, Medicaid, and so on. A counselor is not required to consider the availability of comparable services and benefits, however, when such consideration would delay the provision of services to an eligible individual who is at extreme medical risk or whose job placement might be lost as a result of a delay in services.

What Is the Earnings Status of Rehabilitated Persons in the Years After Case Closure Compared to Persons Who Were Not Rehabilitated?

Based on data from the Rehabilitation Services Administration rehabilitated persons were more likely than those not rehabilitated to have had earnings five years after closure. The likelihood of having earnings was more nearly equal in the years before rehabilitation services. Rehabilitated persons were more likely than persons not rehabilitated to have had earnings the fifth year after closure, but only 6% were more likely to have had earnings the fifth year before closure. Rehabilitated persons were 44% more likely than persons not rehabilitated to have had earnings the fifth year after closure, but only 6% were more likely to have had earnings the fifth year before closure.

After the delivery of rehabilitation services, the gap in average annual earnings favoring rehabilitated workers over those not rehabilitated rose to about $2,200. Prior to rehabilitation services, the differences in average annual earnings between the two groups of workers was consistently below $1,000.

In the last five post-closure years for which data were available (1984 to 1988), the average earnings differential in earnings favoring rehabilitated workers widened steadily each year reaching $2,630 in 1988. Rehabilitated workers averaged 31% more in annual earnings than workers not rehabilitated. For each case, the typical rehabilitated person (including nonwage earners) amassed $46,684 on the eight post-closure years, nearly twice the per case, or per capita, accumulation of $24,307 for persons who were not rehabilitated. On a per capita basis, rehabilitated persons averaged 87% more in annual earnings than persons not rehabilitated.

What Is the Impact on Individuals with Disabilities?

Sixteen million individuals with disabilities have been assisted in acquiring gainful employment over the 75-year history of the state vocational rehabilitation (VR) program. In fiscal year 1994 alone, this program assisted 202,000 individuals with disabilities in obtaining employment, making them taxpaying members of society. On average, it is estimated that only four years are required for a person rehabilitated by the VR program to pay back costs incurred during his/her rehabilitation in the form of federal and state income and sales taxes and reductions in the cost of dependency.

What Is the Uniqueness of the VR Program?

Well-trained professional staff are the key. At the core of the VR program is the relationship between a well-trained counselor and an individual with a disability. The counselor and the individual with a disability forge a partnership whereby a plan is developed and designed to provide those services necessary to achieve the individual's vocational goal consistent with her/her abilities, needs, and informed choices. In this context, the counselor provides the individual with information and guidance about trends in the job market, how the individual's abilities might be best utilized, reasonable accommodations available, training options available, and other services needed to help the individual prepare for and secure work.

State/Private Partnership

Many VR services are purchased through local service providers such as community-based rehabilitation programs, traditional rehabilitation facilities such as those run by the local affiliates of national of national organizations, hospitals, physicians, colleges, technical schools, and a wide range of other nonprofit and for-profit sources. For example, rehabilitation technology and transportation services can be purchased to assist clients as part of their rehabilitation programs. These vendor relationships are well established and are typically based on the knowledge of the counselor and the state agencies regarding long-term histories of success and performance with clients with various types of disabilities.

Established Program Linkage

The VR program has a long and impressive history of cooperation with other federal and state programs. For instance, state VR agencies have developed strong relationships with education agencies at both the state and local levels to coordinate services for students with disabilities transition from school to employment-related activities. Without this seamless transitioning, many such students lose the employment-related skills they have gained while in school. The VR program has a long history of cooperation with other programs. For instance, a unique relationship exists between this program and the Social Security Administration to enable recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to become employed and decrease their reliance on these entitlement programs. The VR program also has a strong relationship with other employment programs (e.g., programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, programs under the Job Training Partnership Act, etc.).

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