Problems with Your Vocational Rehab Counselor?

 I was just sharing some war stories on line with other claimants attorneys about our experiences with particular vocational rehabilitation counselors.  There is no question that some counselors do a poor job of assisting injured workers with realistic and fair plans for returning the injured worker to work.  However, the injured worker can make the best of the vocational rehab experience by doing the following:

1. Be sure you understand the rules.

    During your first meeting with your voc rehab counselor, you will learn that you only have 60 days to decide and present a retraining plan to the adjuster.   Make sure you know when that 60 days ends. 

    Your case is assigned to the voc rehab counselor, and your 60 days is running when neither you nor your counselor knows the length of a retraining program that can be authorized.  Nor will you or your counselor  know how much a minimum lump sum buy-out will be. Most injured workers won't get the results of their permanent partial disability rating when they must start working with a voc rehab counselor.  (The percentage of impairment from the PPD rating determines whether you get 9, 12, or 18 months of retraining, and it will determine how much the minimum voc rehab lump sum buy-out will be.)  You must still use this time to investigate whether you will want a retraining program, or whether you will accept money and find yourself another job.

   2.  Keep your expectations realistic.

     The voc rehab counselor is paid by the insurer.  If the counselor doesn't please your adjuster, the counselor won't continue to have a job.  However, good counselors have integrity and will try to do what is right for the injured worker.  Your counselor isn't going to advocate for you like your attorney.  

      if your vocational test results show that you have no math skills, don't expect the counselor to support your desire to be an accountant.  There are many limitations that may apply to you, such as the length of a program that can be authorized for your impairment percentage, your own work experience, your aptitudes for particular programs, whether a program actually exists in Nevada, whether you have had criminal convictions that prevent particular employment, your physical limitations, and your chances for employment when you complete the program.

3.  You want the counselor to want to help you.

     If you miss your appointment with your counselor, or you are disrespectful, then don't expect your counselor to go the extra mile to help you.  Some claimants don't really want to go to school, and they frustrate and waste the time of the counselor by not initially opting for a buy-out instead of a program. 

     When you simply cannot stand your counselor, you may ask for a new counselor, but understand that you have no legal right to have a different counselor assigned to your claim.   Listen to what the counselor recommends for you, and research the training programs yourself instead of depending on the counselor to find a new career for you. 

--Written by Virginia Hunt, Hunt Law Office

Speak English, Please

 Thank you to the International Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors Association for inviting me to attend their educational conference last week. It was hosted by certified counselors Gerry Davis, Cindi Rivera, and  retired counselor Jack Dymon at the State of Nevada Bureau of Vocational  Rehabilitation.   The focus of the conference was working with multi-cultural groups, and educational and training resources for clients with limited English ability.  

I  need to be aware retraining  programs that are  suitable for my clients who have limited ability to read, write and speak English, and most retraining programs in Las Vegas require that the student learn in English.  With our growing Hispanic population, trying to find a suitable retraining program is a huge ch allege for vocational counselors and the attorneys who represent them.  The second half of the program features vendors of retraining programs that offered some retraining in Spanish and that also had ESL programs available to their students. Those vendors that attended were PITA (Professional Institute of Technology and Accounting), Fastrax Training Center, and The Academy for Human Development.

After hearing about the various ways that the schools were trying to adapt to a growing non-English speaking clientele, it was interesting that all speakers who attended the conference put forth the message that it is essential that all injured workers learn to speak, read and write English.  There is simply no  funding or appetite by insurers or employers to accommodate injured workers who do no put forth a significant effort to improve English skills so that they may participate in existing programs.   Those schools who do provide extra resources, such as bilingual instructors, emphasize that English is essential for success in the work place. 

--Written by

Undocumented Workers Are Entitled to Most Work Comp Benefits

Injured workers in Nevada who do not have proper written proof of their right to legally work in the United States are entitled to the same benefits as any other injured worker, except for vocational rehabilitation benefits.  All injured workers are entitled to medical care for a work-related injury while working for a Nevada employer, even if they are working in the United States illegally. 

The injured worker does need to be able to prove that he was working for a Nevada employer at the time of the accident at work.  That may be difficult if he is paid cash instead of a proper paycheck.

Assuming that the worker lied to the employer about immigration status to get the job, the worker is nonetheless entitled to medical and most compensation benefits once the employment relationship is proven.  

In addition, undocumented workers may receive temporary total disability benefits, payable at 66 2/3 of their average monthly wage, up to the state maximum, if they are taken off work by their treating physician as a result of the work accident.   These compensation benefits are also payable if the employer is unable to provide temporary light duty employment while the injured worker is treating for his injury.  Even more surprising to most undocumented injured workers, they are entitled to receive a permanent partial disability award at the end of treatment  for any permanent injuries.  

What undocumentated injured workers  may not receive are vocational rehabilitation benefits.   Only injured workers who have an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 that can be verified, are  entitled to a continuation of bi-weekly checks while he or she participates in a retraining program.    And, only documented injured workers may request a vocational rehabilitation lump sum buy-out if they chose not to participate in retraining.   

Most workers' compensation attorneys offer a free consultation to reveiw your particular case to advise you.   Don't make the mistake of thinking that you cannot get proper medical care or compensation benefits or  an award just because you are in the United States working illegally.  Call for a free Guide to Nevada Workers' Compensation Law in Spanish.  (702) 699-5336.

--Written by

Thinking of Starting Your Own Business After Your Work Injury?

The reality is that many injured workers are not offered permanent light duty jobs by their employers after their  treating doctors give them permanent work restrictions that prevent them from going back to their usual jobs.  Employers cannot be forced under Nevada workers' compensation law to give permanent light duty jobs to injured employees.  Instead, the injured worker is terminated from employment and is assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor to try to find alternative employment or a formal retraining program.  The injured worker receives bi-weekly checks from the work comp carrier during retraining, but the length of a retraining program that the insurer can authorize may not be sufficient to provide a degree or even a certificate that will ensure employment at a comparable wage.

Many injured workers will simply have to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses if they hope to ever earn what they were making at their time of their accident.  And those that do try to start a small business will have to be extremely imaginative, self-disciplined, and willing to take advantage of all possible sources of help.  If you are thinking about accepting a vocational rehabilitation lump sum buy-out instead of participating in a formal retraining program, start planning early and be professional about it.  Commit at least two hours a day to researching your business idea and organizing your information.  I often ask clients to show me their notes and research, and most cannot show me anything in writing. Those people will not succeed.  If you cannot write down your thoughts and investigate ideas in an organized manner, forget about going into business for yourself.

For those people who understand that starting  a new business and  then persevering the economic down times means hard work and networking, you will want to check out the NCET Entrepreneur Expo this Friday at October 14, 2011 from 10am - 4 pm at the South Point Hotel.  It is free and open to the public.  Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology is a non-profit group with excellent resources at www.NCET.org.  Good Luck to you.

The Learning Center- Technology Training Center

Today, I spent an informative afternoon touring The Learning Center with owner Linda Montgomery.  Linda founded this IT  technical training center 26 years ago. Her  impressive facility, housing over 250 computers,  has been located for 3 years at 777 N. Rainbow, just past U.S. 95.  TLC provides IT certification training to many of Nevada's largest corporations  who need staff training.  TLC also provides training for many government employees, including computer security training for the armed services.  Individual vocational retraining is also provided  for veterans, people looking for a new career, and for injured workers entitled to vocational rehabilitation benefits on their accepted workers' compensation claims.

Linda shared her detailed research with me regarding the expected employment outlook for various IT careers.  She is particularly excited about two certification programs the center offers in career fields with exceptional growth predicted in the Las Vegas employment market:  Green IT, and Health care IT. 

Green IT is a career field focused on saving employers energy dollars and reducing toxic emissions from IT equipment.  (I wasn't aware that all our computers release as much toxin into the environment as the aviation industry.)  The Computer Support Specialist in Health care IT is a 200 hour certification course that can be completed in six months.   Given the current mandate that doctors' offices and other health care facilities update their IT systems, this should be a very promising career field for injured workers. As with many of the certification courses offered, Linda recommends that the student also complete an internship so that the student is job-ready, with experience to offer potential employers.  

TLC's  corporate clients  are a valuable source of job leads for students. TLC provides job placement assistance.  With  heavy emphasis on practical employment skills, job placement  efforts actually begin at enrollment   Linda told me that her students are carefully monitored to assure that each student not only obtains timely certification, but that each student is a competitive job candidate for employers hiring locally. Linda promised me that she will personally oversee the retraining program of any injured workers who choose an IT certification career at TLC.  For more information, please contact Linda Montgomery at (702) 320-8885, or visit the school's website.

Will You Need Retraining?

If you are seriously hurt on the job, and think that you might not be able to return to your old occupation, you may need to be retrained to do a different  kind of work.  Under  Nevada workers' compensation law, you may qualify for vocational rehabilitation services and benefits if your treating doctor gives you permanent work restrictions that prevent you from returning to your old line of work, and your employer does not offer a permanent light duty job. ( Read more about permanent light duty job offershere.)

If you do qualify for retraining, the adjuster will assign you a vocational rehab counselor to work with you to find a suitable retraining program. While the vocational rehabilitation counselor is not an employee of the insurance company or the TPA managing the claim, the counselor usually has some type of formal or informal contractual relationship with the insurer or TPA.   Counselors vary in personality, in their knowledge of the local labor market, and in their awareness of the best vocational schools in the area. Some are better than others about finding the best retraining option for the injured worker while reporting to an insurer who is focused on keeping costs to a minimum. 

Unfortunately, not much progress has been made in the past 25 years when it comes to successfuly returning injured workers to the work force according to recent research by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.  The current economy, and Las Vegas' staggering unemployment statistics in particular,  make it particularly challenging to find retraining programs that will actually result in a job with decent wages for an injured worker starting his or her career over again.  However, it can be done, and an injured worker who is willing to put effort into the process can have a successful second career!

Many injured workers are shocked to learn that the voc rehab counselor expects the claimant to do most of the research on  retraining options, and that only 60 days is allowed to do this research    program.   I like for my clients who know they are likely to need retraining, to begin thinking and planning about retraining immediately.  While an injured worker won't know how much retraining he or she may be entitled to until after the impairment evaluation, the worker can still get started on researching possible options.  An injured worker will only receive an additional  28 days of benefits  to  look for a job after schools ends.   It is therefore crucial that the retraining progam be suited to the individual and that it result in an actual job in the future.

Surviving Job Loss: First, Get a Notebook

Injured workers who have permanent physical restrictions that prevent them from returning to their old jobs are usually separated from their old employer and assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor.  That independent counselor's job is to help  you develop a retraining program over the next 60 days that can be presented to the adjuster for approval. 60 days is a very short time to have the voc rehab counselor test your skills and to determine whether you are likely to be successful in a particular training program.  And 60 days is a short time for you to investigate and actually visit various schools that have training programs. An injured worker who thinks that he will not be going back to his preaccident employer due to a permanent injury, must start thinking about retraining options as soon as possible.

At the end of the retraining program, the injured worker is given only 28 days of additional benefits while the worker searches for a job in her new field.  The voc rehab counselor, and the school providing the retraining, should both be helping the injured worker to find new employment.  However, 28 days is a short time to find work in this economy.   I advise my client to think ahead and plan for the job search now.    Look at this old CNN post on CareeerBuilder.com on  "10 Reasons You Can't Find a Job".   Those clients of mine who have a written plan for finding a job in a notebook are ultimately successful.  Those clients who do not write down their efforts, what they intend to do each day,  and who simply talk about job search efforts are not likely to find jobs.  

According to the Survivors Club, the skill of adaptability, or the ability to adjust to new situations and change your attitude and behavior to handle new challenges is a hallmark trait of a survivor.    Ben Sherwood, author of  best-selling book Survivors Club, says that it's definitely possible to make changes in our attitudes and behaviors to develop new abilities to cope with adversity.  Looking for a job following a retraining program requires drawing on the psychological strengths common to the most effective survivors: adaptability, resilience, faith, hope, purpose, tenacity, love, empathy, intelligence, ingenuity, flow and instinct.   I encourage you to revisit their web site for more information on how to hone these strengths for your job search period.  Good luck to you.

 

Very Little Job Security After a Work Accident

Q: What happens if my work injury prevents me from being able to do my old job?

A:  If your treating doctor releases you with permanent work restrictions that are not compatible with the physical requirements of your job, one of three things is likely to happen:

1) your  employer may offer you a  permanent light duty position , or

2) if your  employer doesn't offer permanent light duty,  you will be eligible for vocational rehabilitation benefits and/or services, or

 3) you can try  to get your permanent work restrictions lifted so that you can stay in your  job.

Q:  Doesn't  my employer have to provide me with a permanent light duty job?

A:  No, your  employer is free to say that it does not want to offer a permanent modified position.  While the  Americans with Disabilities Act, if applicable to your employer,  may be helpful in securing an accommodation and keeping you employed, Nevada workers' compensation law  does not provide job security to injured workers.

Q:  What if I am released full duty and my employer has given my job to someone else or simply won't rehire me? 

A:  Workers' comp law provides that benefits are not payable  if the injured worker is released full duty and the pre-accident job is no longer available.   An employer is not required to hold an  injured worker's job position open indefinitely.  If applicable, the Family Medical Leave Act, may require an employer to hold the job open for up to 12 weeks.   Many injured workers need to file for unemployment benefits when they are able to work.  No recourse can be taken against an employer for not rehiring the injured worker unless it can be proven that the employer is retaliating against the injured worker for filing a workers' comp claim.

Q: What is the best way to keep my job after an injury?

A:  Because an employer is not obligated to offer permanent light duty, the safest way to secure your job is to have your treating doctor release you full duty, without work restrictions.  (You can still be rated for impairment and receive a PPD award even if you have a full duty work release.) Of course, you need to be able to do your old job if you intend to convince your treating doctor that it is safe and reasonable to send you back to work full duty.  If you are unsure, then ask your doctor to give you a trial of 2 weeks or 30 days of full duty, with a follow-up appointment.  That way, if you really cannot work full duty, you will get permanent work restrictions at the follow-up visit,and be entitled to vocational rehabilitation.  Keep in mind that if you do have a full duty work release, your employer has a right to expect full duty work performance from you.   You want to be a valuable employee, and don't want to give your employer any excuses to look for reasons to terminate your employment.

Q:  What else can I do to keep my job even if I have restrictions?

A: From the moment your doctor and you think that you may have permanent work restrictions, you can start strategic planning  on how to keep your job.  Devise a plan for showing your employer how you can remain a valuable employee.  Refuse to be a victim, and focus on what you are still qualified to do.  Put yourself in your employer's shoes, and think creatively about how to best use your skills.  Keep in contact with supervisors and human relations reps so that you are aware of positions that may be opening within the company.  Ask whether you would be qualified for other positions with a short course of retraining.

What Happens When? PPD Awards and Voc Rehab Buy-Outs

I have included a graphic to clarify what happens when the treating doctor tells the injured worker that he is "stable and ratable".   I have divided injured workers who are stable and ratable into two groups, depending on whether the injured worker is released to go back to work full duty, or whether the injured worker has permanent work restrictions.

  

If the injured worker has permanent work restrictions, then he is assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor if the employer does not offer a permanent light duty job within 30 days of receiving permanent work restrictions from the treating physician.  Vocational rehabilitation benefits are started also.  (They are payable every two weeks and are the same amount as the temporary total disability check the injured worker has been receiving while out of work.)  Even though the vocational rehabilitation counselor will not know how much retraining the injured worker will receive until after the permanent partial disability percentage is determined, the counselor will start meeting with the injured worker to discuss potential programs.  Alternatively, the injured worker may receive a vocational rehabilitation lump sum buy-out instead of participating in a vocational rehabilitation retraining program. How much the insurer will offer will depend on the percentage of impairment.

Vocational Rehabilitation- My Visit to LV-PITA

This week I visited the Las  Vegas Professional Institute of Technology & Accounting (LV-PITA) to get a first-hand impression of the school's retraining programs, to pop in on a few classes, meet some instructors, and to meet director Laurie Clemens. I like to personally acquaint myself with the doctors, vocational counselors, nurse case managers, and even the adjusters who will be major players on my clients' claims.  LV-PITA was provisionally licensed last June and expects its permanent accreditation from the state after its first year in operation.  The school is located in the Fountain View Business Park at Decatur, near Rochelle. 

Programs offered include accounting, basic computer training, networking, various network technologies, PC repair, and software applications used by office management staff and computer software specialists.  Click on this link  for more information on on certification programs and course specifics.

Laurie Clemens is an attractive, vivacious blonde with who exudes positive energy.  I will give you her official bio later.   About half of her 170 enrolled students are injured workers participating in retraining  programs paid by industrial insurers.  The other students are mostly older individuals who are referred by various other state and federal agencies that provide funds for vocational retraining.  LV-PITA also generously provides free  computer and job search classes by appointment every other Tuesday for all unemployed Las Vegans. 

I was particularly impressed that LV-PITA was working on retraining programs suitable for Hispanics who need help learning in Spanish before using more difficult materials in English.  The school also teaches the visually impaired, and has experimented and found the best method to teach those individuals who require a one-handed key board.  One of my former clients with a  severe hand injury and permanent impairment was very satisfied with the quality of instruction he received from the school.

Laurie is a native Las Vegan with many ties to the business community.  Having those long-standing connections gives her a tremendous advantage when placing students in internships and when helping graduating students with job placement in these difficult economic times.  Stay tuned for more information about LV-PITA and other schools I intend to visit myself.

Health Care Jobs a Good Retraining Choice for Injured Workers in Nevada

The Health Care Quarterly report in the recent issue of "Las Vegas In Business" has some good news for injured workers deciding which retraining program is most likely to lead to actual employment in the future. Health care employment was up 2,300 jobs from last year according to a research analyst.  The health care industry is recession-resistant because these are crucial jobs and because the health care industry is funded by either insurance or government programs.  The industry  expects more jobs with the opening of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. 

Health care employees generally earn above-average wages depending on their level of training.  While state budget cuts in Nevada are affecting health care jobs also, and no one knows how the health care industry will be affected with federal health care reform, these jobs are still a solid career choice.

There are several vocational schools in Las Vegas that offer health care job training.  Talk to your vocational rehab counselor, and your attorney, about which schools are reputable and which assist their students in job placement.  Make sure you visit several schools and sit in on a few classes before deciding which school and which retraining program is best for you.

 After you are enrolled in a retraining program,  immediately  start thinking ahead to when the retraining program will end.  Only 28 days of benefits are paid when the formal retraining program concludes, and if you are not successful in finding a job right away , you are left without any income.   That means that you need to begin job search efforts before the school portion of the program ends.  Click on this link where  I found some good suggestions for networking and using existing contacts for referrals to potential employers who may be hiring.

Starting a New Business in Nevada

For many injured workers who are unable to return to their old jobs due a permanent injury, a formal program of retraining with a vocational rehabilitation counselor may not be an option, or may not be the best option.  Hispanic employees who have difficulty reading and writing English, for example, will not be able to participate in retraining programs, because almost all programs are taught in English.  Many  injured workers will have to come up with a way to market other skills they have, or will have to start their own businesses.

Nevada law prohibits an industrial insurer from funding self-employment efforts directly.  However, those injured workers who want to, or who must start a small business will at least receive a vocational rehabilitation lump sum buy-out that will help.  The amount of a vocational rehabilitation lump sum buy-out will vary, depending upon the PPD rating of the injured worker, and whether the insurer can be convinced to pay more than the minimum amount the insurer must offer.  See my article onlump sum buy-outs for more information.

Because a vocational rehab counselor is primarily involved in enrolling injured workers in formal retraining programs, the injured worker may not have much help in setting up his or her small business.  I have provided some useful links below for the injured worker who is just starting a small business:

- Checklist for starting a small business by theIRS

- Business name registration for sole proprietor in Clark County

State business license

- Visit the Nevada Department of Taxation for more information on necessary licenses

Conversation with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

I sat down recently with seasoned vocational rehabilitation counselor Jeff Shea to discuss  how the depressed local job market  was affecting Nevada's injured workers who are referred for vocational rehabilitation services.  Jeff is no stranger to overcoming physical adversities himself, and an injured worker cannot complain that Jeff does not personally know how to deal with the extra challenges of a physical disability when reentering the workplace following a devastating injury. Jeff is from Philly, and that explains a lot about his no-nonsense, direct approach to advising injured workers. If you need your voc rehab counselor to sugar-coat the facts regarding today's local job market, Jeff is not the counselor for you.   However, if you do need to quickly know what the best schools are in town, and what the realistic job prospects are in the Las Vegas labor market, Jeff can be a valuable ally.

Vocational rehab counselors like Jeff Shea are independent contractors who are hired by adjusters.  There are voc rehab counselors who take pride in their work, who have integrity, and who are not scared off by insurers threatening  to take their business elsewhere whenever an adjuster disagrees with the voc rehab counselor.   I think Jeff  is one of those counselors, and I am impressed when he goes the extra mile on behalf of an injured worker he believes is really trying to make their retraining  program successful.   However, if an injured worker fails to show up for class repeatedly and has no reasonable excuse for poor class performance, don't expect  much sympathy from Jeff.  While I have questioned Jeff's very tough approach to counseling in the past, I think his approach has merit in today's difficult economy. 

When I expressed my concern for Hispanic clients who are unable to return to their former jobs and who are unable to participate in retraining classes taught only in English,  his response was, " They should have learned English by now. This is the USA."   I have a different view of the problem than that, but I also am at a loss as to how to provide retraining services to injured workers who cannot read and write English sufficiently to attend available retraining programs. 

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How Much Retraining Can An Injured Worker Get in Nevada?

Nevada law (NRS 616C.555), provides that the length of a retraining program that may be authorized is determined by the permanent partial disability impairment percentage (the PPD).   This law does not make a lot of sense in that a an injured worker may have a high PPD under the AMA Guides to Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, but may be capable of returning to work, particularly if the injured worker’s job was sedentary.   Similarly, an injured worker may rate a low PPD under the AMA Guides , but may not be capable of working unless he is retrained for a long time. Nonetheless, the length of a retraining program is limited by the PPD percentage, regardless of the actual needs of the injured worker.

Injured workers with PPD’s of 1% to 5% may be offered programs up to 9 months long.

Injured workers with PPD’s of 6 to 10% may have programs up to 12 months.

Injured workers with PPD’s of 11% or more may have programs up to 18 months.

Only severely injured workers, or those with exceptional circumstances may obtain programs that are longer under NRS 616C.560.  The law is worded in such a way as to allow insurers to offer less than the maximum allowable length of retraining if the insurer believes that the injured worker could be retrained to gainful employment in a shorter amount of time. A good vocational rehabilitation counselor will try to request the best program for the injured worker.  Realistically, it is very difficult to find suitable retraining programs for injured workers who were earning high wages at the time of their accidents because of the statutory restrictions on the length of retraining programs.