What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

vocational rehabilitation
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The profession of vocational rehabilitation counseling gained importance after World War II. Many soldiers returned from combat with missing limbs, and other physical and mental disabilities that prevented them from returning to the jobs they had prior to the war. The vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC) was trained to identify abilities and skills of workers. They work with persons with disabilities to identify appropriate work available and assist these persons with obtaining employment.

Educational programs began to appear in the 1940s; and, in 1954, the profession began to grow and develop its own identity as federal funding became available for programs and training. Over the years, training for VRCs improved and changed with new innovations in prosthetics, orthotics, computers, the Internet, and other assistive devices for persons with disabilities. Educational programs now provide training in the areas of medical and psychosocial aspects of various disabilities, assistive technology, the application of the case management process, and assessing an individual’s abilities and strengths to facilitate employment. Specialty areas include employee assistance programming, expert testimony, job development/job placement, career counseling, adjustment to disability counseling, and vocational evaluation and testing.

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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability provided for in any program conducted by the federal government. Additionally, states were given grants to implement these services in their state. This was followed by many other provisions to assist these persons in obtaining employment. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 further prohibited discrimination based on disability, and required employers to make reasonable accommodations to any known physical and/or mental limitation of a disabled employee. These accommodations were required by law unless the employer could show they would be a financial hardship for the employer. It applied to public transportation and required accessibility of these services to persons with disabilities. Public accommodations were also required to provide access that included architectural changes and modifications to areas to allow for wheelchairs and other assistive devices utilized by persons with disabilities. The act also made it illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on disability in their hiring and termination practices. Additional changes were made to the ADA effective in January 2009.

The national certification for VRCs is the certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) designation, administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Certification (CRCC). Most VRCs have this credential and are required to have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. The CRCC established the criteria for obtaining this designation and includes the code of ethics for VRCs. As of 2010 there were only 129,800 CRCs in the United States. Many of these work for state agencies in state vocational rehabilitation programs, while some work in the nonprofit sector. Only about 6 percent work as forensic vocational experts. The forensic vocational expert is well-versed in vocational rehabilitation and earning capacity. These professionals are utilized in litigation where wage earning capacity is in question or monetarily quantified in settlement demands. Vocational experts are used in personal injury cases, auto accidents causing physical and/or mental injuries, product liability cases, divorce and child custody matters, and other types of cases where wage earning capacity is in question.

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In the forensic arena, the vocational expert (VE) analyzes cases where wage earning capacity is in question. These professionals provide various services including vocational testing of claimants, work history evaluations, medical record reviews, assessing labor market information, and identifying what jobs a claimant can perform along with expected wages. In recent cases, the VE was crucial in identifying whether or not a person can work and at what level they can perform work.

For example, in the case of Mr. M, the VE was able to show that the claimant had a very unstable work history and that his wage earning capacity was far below what was alleged. There was a forensic VE hired on both sides, but ultimately the jury agreed that Mr. M was not entitled to lost wages in excess of $1 million. In a jury case, Mr. W. was requesting $600,000 in lost wages. The VE testified and was able to show that Mr. W. had not worked at this level and was able to work at a higher level than alleged, thus reducing his settlement for lost wages to less than $100,000.

The vocational expert can be a critical part of the litigation process. The VE has been trained and credentialed in vocational rehabilitation and is the best professional able to analyze, review and assess the employability and wage earning capacity of individuals in litigation. Kay Van Wey 

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