Maryland Vocational Rehabilitation Lawyer

If you are interested in re-entering the workforce after a serious work-related injury and you are not able to return to the type of job duties you had pre-injury, you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. The purpose of VR is to help an injured worker secure suitable gainful employment and return to the workforce. A Maryland vocational rehabilitation lawyer could help you through this trying time.

What Is Vocational Rehabilitation?

If you’re taking the time to read this, you may already have some idea of what the workers’ compensation (WC) VR process is. For those who are unaware, vocational rehabilitation is a benefit of many workers’ comp claims. It allows injured workers who are permanently unable to return to the duties of pre-injury employment to receive help with re-entering the workforce. Further, this benefit includes specialist services that could include testing, job placement, workforce counseling and on-the-job training.

The VR process is usually triggered by a doctor stating that the injured worker is able to return to the workforce but has permanent limitations and restrictions from the work injury which would prevent him from returning to the duties of the pre-injury job. The VR process usually begins with a Functional Capacity Evaluation which determines the extent of the impaired worker’s capabilities and restrictions. After this, the VR counselor (VRC) who has been assigned to the case interviews the injured worker and creates a plan to return the injured person to some form of gainful employment. However, just because an injured worker is legally entitled to VR doesn’t mean a lawyer should automatically demand it.

What Happens If the Injured Worker Does Not Want to Return to the Workforce?

Never has the adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” been more analogous to people than when one tries to force an injured worker to find a job when he or she simply does not want to. Maybe the injured worker is ready to retire or maybe wants to spend time with his or her kids/grandkids and can afford not to get a “real” job, or maybe he wants to go back to school. Maryland vocational rehab attorneys learn to recognize the difference between someone who is mostly just nervous about working again and afraid of failure and rejection versus an injured worker who really does not want to go through vocational rehabilitation.

Determining if a Worker Qualifies for Vocational Rehabilitation

As attorneys often relay to victims of workplace accidents, no matter how painful and unpleasant it was, their active medical treatment was the simplest part of many claims. As long as they showed up to their treatment appointments and generally did what the provider said, they are eligible to receive weekly wage replacement temporary total disability benefits (TTD). Vocational rehabilitation is very different and requires much more from them. During VR, the injured individual will have to be an active, committed job-seeker and will be expected to document his efforts and prove those efforts to the VRC. He will be expected to not just apply to the list of prospects that the VRC gives him, but will also be expected to generate his own. Not every person is willing and/or able to do this.

Often, one of the pitfalls is that the injured worker is very angry at the insurance company and the system. This will often carryover to the counselor who they see as being a part of the insurance company.

The injured person may also be extremely fearful of re-injury and hyper-focused on his pain and misery. By this point in a claim, attorneys have typically recognized these traits in the injured worker and have already gotten them into psychological counseling. Psychological support can be helpful in getting hurt employees through both treatment and VR. I have had extremely nervous, anxious clients who needed psychological support to get them through the VR progress.

Many workers define themselves through their jobs and, if unable to return to the previous occupation, they have a hard time visualizing themselves doing something else. Therefore, if they don’t come to the table with some ideas of what they might want to do within their restrictions, they may be completely resistant to any suggestions from the VRC.

The Benefits of Vocational Rehab

The obvious positive aspects of VR are that, while the injured worker is participating in it, he will continue to receive weekly benefits in the same amount as his TTD benefits. He will be working with a skilled VRC who, based on the IW’s physical and mental capabilities and transferable skills, will help him find suitable gainful employment.

Unless the hurt employee is a quadriplegic or totally blind, the WCC tends to presume that he’s able to do some form of work. If attorneys try to settle or go for PPD/PTD in a case where the claimant is not working and there has been no VR effort or evaluation, the WCC is loath to consider it. It is not uncommon to see settlement agreements returned and hearings canceled because the WCC wants to see VR involvement. Even if the parties all believe a VR assessment will be a waste of time—especially in a very serious case—getting the assessment can allow the claim to resolve.

Risks Associated with Vocational Rehab

“Compliant” is a terrible word. Professionals often talk about whether an injured person was compliant with VR, but mere compliance is not good enough. During the VR process, the recovering employee is given every opportunity to destroy any sympathy and favorable presumptions that might have existed based on his or her serious injury and his or her previous work ethic. Every incomplete or not-submitted progress report will likely be used to attack his or her credibility. Each time he or she does not respond to the VRC’s phone call is more support for the VRC’s eventual opinion that suitable gainful employment exists for the worker but he or she did not apply himself or herself to finding it.

When the injured person is not deeply committed and enthusiastic about finding a job and working with the VRC, that claim quickly becomes a nightmare for both him and for his lawyer. It is these injured workers that the insurance adjuster will obtain surveillance on and terminate benefits and services. When the adjuster cuts a worker off, the worker’s lawyer has even more of a task on hand. Typically, by the time this happens, the lawyer will have been in frequent contact with the disappointed, aggravated VRC and will have spent much time and effort encouraging the IW to do what he’s supposed to do.

Even for the most dedicated job-seeker, there is no requirement that the VR process targets prospective employment with wages and benefits anywhere near that of the pre-injury employment. Frankly, it is the rare IW who can get himself pumped up to find a light duty job which pays a lot less than his former career. This reality can create hostility between the IW and his lawyer and the VRC and I have seen IWs fire their lawyers for supporting a VRP where wage loss is likely.

Alternatives Available to Injured Employees

Let us say the partially-disabled injured worker has their heart set on going to school or starting their own business and absolutely refuses to suffer through the VR hierarchy of services. That hierarchy is:

  • Return to work, same employer, same job – vocational services may include a job analysis and coordination to return to work with the employer, but usually no vocational services provided.
  • Return to work, same employer, different job – work with the employer to identify a new position that would fit the restrictions or modifications needed by the injured worker.
  • Return to work, different employer, same job – vocational services would assist in job development and placement.
  • Return to work, different employer, different job – vocational services may consist of performing a transferable skills analysis, interest testing, aptitude testing, job development and job placement.
  • On-the-job training – identify a new employer that can train the injured worker on the job. This program can last between 3 months and 6 months.
  • Skills enhancement – vocational services may identify a course to develop a skill prior to a job search. This does not consist of a full retraining program.
  • Retraining – vocational assessment identifies that the above options are not feasible and then identifies a retraining program. The training program can range from a short-term certificate program to an associates’ degree program. A vocational rehabilitation plan that proposes retraining must include aptitude testing, interest testing, educational-achievement testing, a transferable skills analysis, labor market research and evidence of vocational exploration to support a training program.
  • Self-employment. It is extremely rare that VR services reach this stage in a WC claim, largely due to the extraordinary failure rate of small businesses.

If the IW insists on skipping the first 4 or 5 steps and getting right into some form of retraining, schooling or self-employment, the first thing attorneys often do is have the IW gather all relevant information about what they want to do. Next, if it sounds reasonable to the attorney, they could work with the adjuster to settle the VR portion of the claim in exchange for sufficient funds to help the injured worker achieve their job plan. Just as it is possible to settle indemnity-only or medical-only, an IW is able to settle VR-only. Some Insurers do it this way while others will insist on working VR settlement money into a settlement of the entire claim.

Reach Out to a Maryland Vocational Rehabilitation Attorney Today

Suffering from a work-related injury is never easy. When your accident prevents you from returning to the workforce, that does not mean you are doomed to a career-less life. A Maryland vocational rehabilitation lawyer could help you claim the workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to and help you stay on track to making as maximum of a recovery as you are able to. Reach out today to talk with a legal professional.