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LEGAL TOPICS
Vocational Rehabilitation Services for People with Disabilities

What is vocational rehabilitation (VR)?

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) services are designed to help people with disabilities find or keep jobs. This article explains the services that are offered and how people with low incomes and resources can find and use them.

Here are some examples of services that a vocational service agency might provide:

  • Guidance and counseling. Specially trained vocational counselors can advise people with disabilities on job searches, ways to stay employed, and how to succeed at work.
  • Job placement. This can include help finding job leads, payments for on-the-job training, providing job coaches to help with learning and adjustment to employment, and supported employment services.
  • Job accommodations. This can include advice and financial assistance to obtain disability accommodations to allow people to do more work tasks independently, effectively, and safely.
  • Vocational skills training. VR services can include helping people identify and pay for skills training at vocational and trade schools.
  • College training. In some cases, VR will help pay for two- to four-year college programs leading to a degree.
  • Physical restoration services. In some cases, VR will help identify and pay for therapies or medical equipment that would enable a person to work or return to work. Examples might be physical therapy, cognitive therapy, prosthetics, or other assistive technology.
  • Emotional restoration services. This may include mental health counseling or other assistance to improve a person’s ability to get and keep a job.
  • Vehicle or home modifications. Where vehicle or home modifications are needed to allow a person with a disability to get or keep a job, VR will sometimes provide assistance.

VR services are especially helpful to people who have disabilities and are not sure what jobs they would be able to get and keep. Vocational counselors can gather information about your medical conditions, job interests, and what jobs are available that match your abilities and interests. In other words, the VR counselor can identify the types of jobs that you could perform and might be interested in. The VR counselor can identify any obstacles to successful employment, and help develop a plan for overcoming those obstacles.

People working with a VR program, as well as the Ticket to Work program (described below), will create an Individualized Plan for Employment, or IPE, with their counselors. The IPE includes the employment goal, the agreed-upon services, the steps that will be taken to obtain the goal with a time frame, and the responsibilities of the consumer. The IPE is basically a contract between the consumer and the VR agency. The IPE can be revised, if necessary.

Where can people get vocational rehabilitation services in New Jersey?

  1. New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
    The New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (NJDVRS) has 19 offices throughout the state, listed on its website. You can also call them at (609) 292-5987. A person with a physical or mental impairment that is a substantial barrier to employment may qualify for vocational rehabilitation services. Children with disabilities who are as young as 14 years old can request vocational rehabilitation services to help them transition into employment on completing school. Most services are free, or charged on a sliding scale. NJDVRS might deny services if they determine that their services would not enable someone to be successful at finding and keeping employment. Also, NJDVRS is subject to funding restrictions, which may limit services during certain times.

  2. Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
    The Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI) provides services in the areas of education, employment, independence, and eye health for people who are blind or visually impaired, their families, and the community. This includes vocational services, such as developing skills to enable people to secure and maintain employment, including many of those described above. Transition services are also available for some people in secondary school.

    People may be eligible if they have a vision impairment that is affecting normal daily life activities or if they are legally blind. The standard for vision impairment is usually a best-corrected vision of 20/70 or less in the better eye. People with reduced visual fields may also qualify.

  3. U.S. Veterans Administration
    Vocational rehabilitation services  are also offered through the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA). See the Veterans Administration's Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment page for a description of the program and services available. Veterans can apply if they were not dishonorably discharged and if they have a service-connected disability rating of 10% or more (or memorandum rating of 20% or more). Services are available up to 12 years from the date of separation from military service, or from being informed by the VA of a service-connected disability rating.

  4. Employment Networks
    Some Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and Social Security Disability (SSDI) beneficiaries may obtain services from Employment Networks. Employment Networks have contracted with the Social Security Administration to provide vocational rehabilitation services to people who have received a “Ticket to Work” benefit from Social Security. Employment Networks may also work in conjunction with state vocational rehabilitation programs. It should be noted that Employment Networks are not required to serve everyone and may choose the type of services they wish to provide. At any time SSI recipients and SSDI beneficiaries can use their Ticket to Work to switch from one Employment Network to another. They may contact the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security Program at the not-for-profit organization Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) at 1-800-922-7233 for further assistance.

  5. Other Vocational Rehabilitation Services
    Vocational services are sometimes offered in conjunction with workers compensation claims, for workers injured on the job. Some private companies also offer vocational rehabilitation services to paying clients.

What are my rights if I request vocational rehabilitation services and I am denied?

DVRS consumers and applicants can appeal denials at any level, from the initial application on. Appeals must be requested in writing. Types of appeals include an administrative review, mediation, or fair hearing. The consumer or applicant has the right to obtain representation from counsel, a friend, parent, guardian, or other representation. CBVI has a similar appeals process. There may be a limited time period to file your appeal, so you should contact the VR counselor or local VR office for more information about the appeal process. Both DVRS and CBVI consumers may contact the Client Assistance Program at DRNJ at 1-800-922-7233.

Other Benefits to Working with a VR Program (TTW, Welfare Work Activity, etc.)

In some cases, participation in a vocational rehabilitation program can protect your rights within other programs. For example, some state welfare program benefits require participation in a “work activity” to receive benefits, unless you are medically unable to work. An approved vocational rehabilitation program can sometimes qualify as a valid work activity. Also, for those receiving SSI or SSDI benefits, the Social Security Administration sometimes postpones continuing medical disability reviews for people who are participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation plan under the Ticket to Work program.

Additional Vocational Rehabilitation Resources

 

This article is from the April 2013 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.​​​

4/4/2013
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