VR is a Cooperative, Collaborative Process
Vocational rehabilitation benefits can provide invaluable training and guidance in assisting injured workers in their return to suitable work. The parties and the VR counselor should communicate freely and should work together toward the common goal of return to work.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) refers to the services and benefits that can assist an injured worker in returning to suitable work. This overview is intended to explain when an injured worker is entitled, what kinds of services are provided and explain how the vocational rehabilitation process works.
Identification and Referral
Vocational rehabilitation benefits are not provided to all injured workers. An injured worker may be identified and referred for VR one of two ways:
- The work injury has disabled them from work for 90 days; or
- They are otherwise identified as being unable to return to suitable employment.
If either of these developments has occurred and the insurance adjuster has not made a referral to a VR Counselor, the injured worker may contact the adjuster or the department to request such referral.
Medical or other evidence should establish that the work injury renders the worker unable to perform work for which they have previous training or experience.
The first step in the VR process is the Entitlement Assessment. A VR Counselor reviews the worker’s vocational profile (i.e. work history and experience) and medical status and interviews the injured worker then issues a written report containing their assessment. If the worker is unable to return to suitable work then they are found “Entitled” and the Counselor proceeds to work with the injured worker to develop a return to work (vocational) plan.
Several VR determinations focus upon “suitable work”. This refers to work for which the worker has the necessary physical capacities, knowledge, skills and abilities to perform. The work should also be located where the worker customarily worked, or within a reasonable commute. The pay goal is the worker’s average weekly wage or at least 80% of that.
The Vocational (Return-to-Work) Plan
Once entitlement is established, the counselor works cooperatively with the injured worker and the adjuster to develop a vocational plan, (also known as an Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan [IWRP]). This is essentially a Return-to-Work plan. Vermont requires adherence to the following hierarchy, in descending order of preference, in developing a VR plan:
- Return to the same employer in a modified/different job requiring VR services.
- Return to a different employer in a modified/different job requiring VR services.
- On-the-job training
- New skill training or retraining.
- Educational or academic program.
The VR plan is individually tailored to assist the injured worker in returning to suitable employment. The plan should identify a job goal, milestones to complete the goal, costs, duration and party responsibilities. The counselor should indicate the reasons for the plan that is developed. VR plans require signed party agreement and department approval.
VR Choice The employer (or insurance carrier) may select the initial VR counselor. The injured worker has a right to change counselors if they are not satisfied with the one selected for them. The worker must file a Form VR 8 requesting a change in counselors. The list of Vermont Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors is available in Adobe format by clicking here.
Withdrawal or Termination
An injured worker may voluntarily withdraw from the VR process. They should indicate their desire to withdraw in writing. VR services may also be suspended or terminated if an injured worker does not cooperate or fulfill their obligations in the VR process. Such action requires documentation from the VR counselor.
If either the injured worker or the insurance carrier disagree over a VR matter, such as an entitlement decision, formulation of the VR Plan, or termination of VR, they should first contact the opposing party and provide reasons for their disagreement. The parties may resolve the matter between themselves. If a disputed matter is not resolved, either party may write to the department and request a conference for discussion, mediation and hopeful resolution. As with all workers’ compensation matters, any party may request that the disputed issue be addressed at a Formal Hearing.
All VR Counselors must be certified by the department. Certification requires a Masters degree in Counseling or Rehabilitation Counseling (unless Grand-fathered in) and work experience in the Vermont workers’ compensation system. VR Counselors are professionals in their field and their work and opinions may be relied upon by the department in vocational rehabilitation matters.