Return to Work Resources

It is imperative to make the most of the resources available to you. Cultivate an understanding of what rehabilitation experts can offer, how the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Security can work for you, and what is possible when work isn't.

Each individual attempting to return to work has a particular set of circumstances that make his/her situation unique. Talk with your current or future employer about your vocational strengths. Be honest and open about what you can contribute to their company. In the case of physical barriers, suggest adaptive equipment that is available. Surveys indicate that the cost of making accommodations to the workplace in 70% of cases is $500 or less!

Working with rehabilitation specialists may help successful return to work, and job maintenance as well.

How Rehabilitation Experts Can Help

Many rehabilitation facilities, particularly transitional or community re-entry programs, focus on

  • pre-employment assessment,
  • preparation for re-entering the work force, and/or
  • planning for the first job (for students leaving the school system).

Students in the public school system—being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—should have a transitional plan under development starting at age 14. This plan is designed to prepare you for life once schooling is completed. For some, this may mean higher education; for others, a focus on training and vocational rehabilitation services to enter the work force.

When Work Isn't an Option

The severity of some people's injury prevents them from returning to, or entering, the work force. That doesn't mean they can't be productive.

  • Many families have developed cottage industries, incorporated individuals into family businesses, and/or arranged for satisfying volunteer opportunities to ensure the individual is a productive member of society.
  • If you are not yet ready for paid work, volunteer work is an excellent way to increase your daily activity and transition into regular, paid work. The Volunteer Exchange can match your needs (type of work, location, hours) with their database and locate organizations who are seeking volunteers.
  • Many state agencies and non-profit organizations provide services that enhance quality of life for people with injuries. The federally mandated Centers for Independent Living provide a menu of services, i.e., independent living skills training, case management, counseling, and peer support.
  • Goodwill Industries, Easter Seals, Catholic Community Charities, and Jewish Family Services, as well as many sheltered workshops throughout the country, offer opportunities for people with disabilities to use their skills productively.

The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation

The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is a major resource for individuals with a disability. Vocational Rehabilitation is a state/federal program designed to assist you in return to work.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services are provided by the Rehabilitation Act in every state. Although the names may differ depending on the state in which you live, the services offered are the same.

VR counselors supply diagnostic evaluations, counseling, and case management services. They will, as funds are available, pay for services deemed reasonable for return to work. Services include training, testing, job referrals, and job coaching. The Department also pays for supplies, transportation to training, tools needed for the job, and license or union fees.

To be eligible for services, you must have

  • a vocational objective,
  • a medically diagnosed disability that currently prevents you from returning to employment, and
  • a reasonable expectation that the services will enable you to return to work.

VR can work with you for several years to help you get back to work. When seeking assistance from VR, it is important that you take a family member or friend to assist you with intake interviews, appointments for evaluations, and development of the Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP). The IWRP is a plan that outlines the mutually determined goals that may lead to employment.

The VR counselor may schedule appointments for evaluations and assessments. The assessments determine the abilities you presently have that may support employment. It is vital that all appointments be kept and all responsibilities be carried out.

If you do not cooperate with the planning, VR may terminate their services to you. That is why it is so important to have a responsible individual accompany you to all appointments and help with scheduling.

Services provided by VR may include:

  • training, such as training for a trade, technical or business school, college or on-the- job training;
  • physical aids such as hearing aids, braces, or medical services;
  • assistive technology, such as computers or other devices and accommodations to help you perform a job;
  • tools or equipment to perform your job, and transportation or personal assistance; and
  • job placement assistance with leads, as well as help with filling out applications and interviewing.

For your state vocational rehabilitation agency, check your state government listing in your phone book. Also, look in the yellow pages of your phone book under "Rehabilitation Services" for private agencies.

Social Security Benefits

You may be concerned about loss of Social Security benefits if you return to work. There is a plan whereby you can work for a period of nine consecutive months (a trial period) without loss of benefits.

Arrangements can also be made to continue Medicare coverage even when Social Security disability benefits are terminated. For more information, contact the Social Security office in your area or call 1-800-772-1213.


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